Do you see me? I am a lost child!
Some people call me a runaway…others a throw away. Whichever… I am one of between 1.6 and 2.8 million kids who run away each year in the US. When a stranger abducts a child, the media follows the story closely because they know the child is in grave danger. Well, I’m here to tell you that you need to search for me too because I am also in grave danger and I need to be helped!
By far, the most prevalent type of reported missing children in the United States are the runaway/throwaway children, like me. Unfortunately, all too often we are considered a family problem, rather than a child welfare and societal concern—in spite of the astronomical numbers of children who runaway.
There is a very strong Runaway Myth that goes like this: “Children who runaway make their own decisions to go. Let them be, they’ve made their own choice and must deal with the consequences. If they want to come home they will.” I want you to know the Runaway Myth makes several false assumptions.
False Assumption #1: Teenagers are rational decision-makers, they make decisions and plan their actions with care.
I am the first to admit that there are teens who make considered decisions, however most of us just wing it. We all know that the teen years are a time of life when kids are learning emotion and decision management.
More than 70 percent of teen runaways interviewed “described their leaving home as occurring on the spur of the moment.” Many of us didn’t even pack a bag, make sure we had money for food and shelter, or figure out where we were going to spend that first night.
False Assumption #2: All homeless children have a home to return to.
Nearly half of homeless kids will tell you about situations where they were thrown out of their homes by their families or caregivers. These children literally have no place to go. They are called throwaway children. That’s me!
Additionally, a good number of runaways come from abusive homes where it was dangerous for them to live. Yup, that’s me too!
If we do not find a reputable shelter, we may panhandle and sleep in parks or abandoned buildings. Survival requires more money than panhandling can provide. Many of us find ourselves selling drugs or sex, not by choice, but through necessity.
It is estimated that many of us, especially us girls, begin engaging in survival sex within 48 hours of leaving home. Sex for food and a place to stay can quickly escalate into formalized prostitution.
And False Assumption #3: Runaway/throwaway children are capable of: 1) getting themselves out of whatever they were doing to survive and 2) returning home safely on their own.
It is true that some of the more independently minded runaway/throwaway kids are capable of caring for themselves for years. Many could return home if they chose. But NOT ME! I have no idea how to undo what I’ve done or where I would go if I could get away from this life.
So, there are those of us who have begun surviving by exchanging sex for food & shelter or started selling drugs, we quickly find ourselves in a web of forced labor making money for pimps and pushers. For us there is no easy way home.
Here are the facts…
47% of runaway youth report conflict between them and a parent/guardian in the home.
Over 50% of youth in shelters or on the streets reported that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care
80% of runaway & homeless girls reported having been sexually or physically abused.
So you tell me…Are we runaways at risk? I say…Yes if we stay and yes if we leave!
Are you seeing the picture? It’s desperate! We are on the streets with no responsible caretaker. We often do not have a home to go back to. We are very likely to be victims of abduction, physical & sexual abuse, and sex trafficking.
You people need to wake up and understand that you need to cherish children and protect them every way you can. I’m worth your time and effort.
Do you see me? I’m a lost child. What will you do?