When Isaak* called 1-800-RUNAWAY about his 15-year-old missing son, two things caught Stephanie’s attention: the dire sound of distress in his voice, and the fact that police had refused to file a report.

A Parent of a Runaway Teen Shares His Experience.

My Kid Ran Away From Home. What Do I Do? - Runaway Reality - National Runaway Safeline

Image by Alon (Flickr Creative Commons)

When a parent or guardian suspects, “my kid ran away from home,” their first instinct is often to call their local police and request a “Missing Person File.” According to NRS frontline team member Stephanie, those guardians may not realize how significantly the advice they receive from law enforcement can vary depending on which officer picks up on the other end of the line.

“Even though there are certain things that law enforcement should do or protocols they should follow,” says Stephanie, “it’s kind of up to each department as to how they actually enforce or follow certain policies.” That can mean headaches for concerned parents unsure about how to navigate an already stressful and precarious situation involving a loved one who has disappeared.

“My Kid Ran Away From Home. What Do I Do?!”

When Isaak* called 1-800-RUNAWAY about his 15-year-old missing son, two things caught Stephanie’s attention: the dire sound of distress in his voice, and the fact that police had refused to file a report. Isaak revealed to the officer that his son had a history of running away, substance abuse, and suicidal attempts. Though there was no evidence that the youth had crossed state lines, to that officer, the suggestion that interstate travel was possible meant that he couldn’t file.

“Across the board, if a parent wants to file a runaway report, they have the right to file a runaway report, because if they don’t file it, they could be found negligent by Child Protective Services. So, even just from a protection standpoint, they’re supposed to be allowed to file.”

The father sounded desperate.  “I just want to make sure he’s safe. He doesn’t even have to come home,” he said. “I just want to know that he’s safe, and he’s not going to hurt himself.”

Given the resistance Isaak had received from law enforcement, Stephanie provided tips for proactively reaching his son in ways he may have not yet considered. When a youth doesn’t answer his or her phone, parents don’t always know to check social media logins, to attempt getting a digital message to them, or to contact the parents of friends he or she may be with. They’re also encouraged to use the listing resources provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

 “I just want to make sure he’s safe. He doesn’t even have to come home,” he said. “I just want to know that he’s safe, and he’s not going to hurt himself.”

“I gave him some numbers for the Sheriff’s Department, and some other law enforcement numbers, as opposed to just his local non-emergency line. Sometimes, contacting even just a different number at the same police department [can put you in touch with someone who is] going to handle it a little bit differently and hopefully, maybe a little bit more urgently than the first person.”

With some regularity, Stephanie also talks with law enforcement officers who call the National Runaway Safeline in order to check the availability of resources in their specific area. 

Though there’s no way to know if Isaak reached his son, Stephanie felt confident that their conversation had put him in a more focused place to move forward. “At last, he had action items. I think that’s such a big thing for both parents and youth is that if they action items, if they’re running away or looking for their child, across the board, if they have a couple next steps, the tone of their voice becomes much calmer.”   

*The parent and youth’s name and details have been changed to respect anonymity.