“I’ve got about ten seconds to help this caller feel like this is a safe place for them to speak,” says volunteer Carolyn. Learn how we build rapport with runaway youth. By Dan Jakes


Runaway Youth Crisis Services Center Volunteer Carolyn

Runaway Reality: Jacob

NRS’ frontline team member (aka ‘liner’) and 2015 Volunteer of the Year Carolyn can’t foresee the severity of a call when her line lights up, but her conversations always start the same way.

“I’ve got about ten seconds to help this caller feel like this is a safe place for them to speak,” she says, a process that comes down to rapport building, validating the runaway youth’s or concerned adult’s feelings and seeking out facts to on which to build.

When 15-year-old Jacob* dialed 1-800-RUNAWAY last week, his knuckles were still swollen and bruised from punching a tree moments before. He felt isolated from his older sibling and wanted to know his practical options for leaving his extended family in order to return to his old home.

“He was safe there physically and more or less emotionally (we always ask everybody), but he really missed his dad and really missed his older brother,” says Carolyn. Unbeknownst to a lot of youth, a drastic attempt to run away could not only have put him in danger on the street, but depending on his state, thrown his father into legal jeopardy.

“In many states–not all of them, some of them are changing their laws–adults can get in trouble for harboring a runaway, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, inhibiting parental rights, that kind of stuff.” Upon learning that the teen didn’t have a school or faith leader to confide in, Carolyn listened and allowed him to open up about his custody situation. As Jacob’s tone thawed and his personality came through, he started discussing his writing and music, a revelation Carolyn hears time and time again.

Are you thinking about running away? Consider speaking with us.

Letting him unload, it seemed, was the best solution to help him transition from a place of despair to a state of empowerment. “When I dialed this number, I didn’t think you could help me,” said Jacob. By the end of the call, the teenager no longer wanted to risk traveling across states, and the conversation moved to what interior resources he could use to make his new life more tenable.
For many calls, that’s the most valuable thing Carolyn can do. “The reality of the political system we’re in now is that there were very few resources before, and there’s even less now.” By acting as trained, objective listeners, NRS’ liners help young people like Jacob, stay safe by staying home; in other cases, they validate the youth’s decision to leave and use unique programs like NRS’s Home Free program done in collaboration with Greyhound Bus Lines to reunite families and/or provide information about shelters from which to seek help.

“Often times, they run for a reason” – Carolyn


Carolyn has been an NRS’ frontline team member for three and a half years.

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

Related Articles:

Runaway Reality: Tiana

Runaway Reality: Ahmed

Runaway Reality: Megan

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