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Running away

Are you thinking about running away? Are you already on the streets? If so, call 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929) for help.

Are you afraid that a friend of yours might run away? Are you thinking about running away?

One in 7 kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away at some point. And there are 1 million to 3 million runaway and homeless kids living on the streets in the United States. Many of these runaways are teens under the age of 18 who leave their home or place of legal residence without the permission of parents or a legal guardian. They come from every social class, race, and religion. And they are usually hungry, scared, desperate, and at high risk of turning to crime.

Runaway teenage girl sitting on the street.If you think your friend is about to run away, ask her or him these questions:

 

  • What else can you do to improve your home situation before you leave?
  • What would make you stay at home?
  • How will you survive?
  • What will you do for money?
  • Is running away safe?
  • Who can you count on for help?
  • Are you being realistic?
  • Have you given this enough thought?
  • What are your other options?
  • If you end up in trouble, who will you call?
  • When you return home, what will happen?
Learn more about dealing with friends and family in our Relationships section.

The most common reasons that teens run away are family problems over such issues as: curfew, behavior, dress code, grades, and the choice of friends. Teens also may choose to run away because of problems they are afraid to face, such as bullying at school, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or alcohol and drug problems.

There are a number of teens that may choose life on the street because of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in their home. The nature of ANY kind of abuse — the shame your friend may have, and the possible involvement of parents, stepparents, or other family members — may make it extremely difficult for your friend to tell. This is not a time for your friend to run away!

Encourage your friend to tell a teacher, counselor, babysitter, neighbor, clergy person, or your parents. Offer to go along with your friend to give her or him support. Let your friend know that being abused is not her or his fault. Be clear to your friend — nothing about what they say, the way they look, or how they behave gives ANYONE the right to use or hurt them! You can learn more about abuse in the Relationships section of girlshealth.gov.

Signs that your friend may run away:

  • She or he has sudden and dramatic mood swings that affect eating and interest in hanging out with friends.
  • Her or his school grades, attendance, and behavior suddenly drop.
  • She or he suddenly starts carrying large amounts of money and even asks you to keep some of it.
  • She or he gives away clothing and other valuable items.
  • She or he starts talking to you about running away. “Do you think anyone would miss me if I leave home?” (Take these statements seriously!)

If you are afraid that your friend may run away:

  • Let her or him know that running away will not solve anything! It will make things worse!
  • Ask your friend to get permission to stay with you and your family for a couple of days.
  • Encourage your friend to talk to her or his parents, grandparents, or teacher.
  • If your friend says she or he is being abused, tell your parents immediately! Your friend’s life may depend on it! Your parents can call the police, local child protective services, or 1-800-4-A-CHILD (Childhelp USA).

Problems of being a runaway:

Blonde runaway girl with a trash bag.According to the National Runaway Hotline:

  • Nine out of 10 teens return home or are returned to their home by the police within a month. If your friend runs away, she or he may not be 1 of the 9 that returns home.
  • A lot can happen in one month. Many runaways, who remain in the streets for 2 or more weeks, will become involved in theft, drugs, or pornography. One out of every 3 teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. 
  • Your problems at home are replaced by more serious and dangerous problems on the street! It’s not worth it!

Being a teen is not easy. There are a whole lot of ups and downs, changes, and new experiences. Sometimes it may feel that your parents don’t make things easier with their demands. "My parents don't listen to me!" This is the most common complaint teens and even younger children have about their parents. Parents, on the other hand, have the same complaint: "She won't listen to me!"

Here are some family communication tips:

  • Set aside time to talk to your parents every day.
  • Don't expect your parents to read your mind.
  • Be specific about your expectations and requests.
  • Have patience — good communication takes time and effort.
  • Brainstorm ideas with your parents before making a final decision.
  • Ask for input from all family members.
  • Write things down. Make a list of changes you want to see.
  • Be willing to compromise with your parents.
  • Use community resources when you need help. Ask a teacher or school counselor for leads.

If this doesn’t work, and you find yourself in a crisis with your parents, contact the National Runaway Safeline (1-800-RUNAWAY). They can help you work through your problems and even set-up conference calls with you and your parents. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day. It is also confidential and free. Remember, running away doesn’t solve anything. It can make things worse!

Resources:

Hotlines

  • National Runaway Safeline – phone 1-800-RUNAWAY
  • Child Find of America, Inc. – phone 1-800-A WAY OUT
  • National Missing Children's Locate Center – phone 1-800-999-7846

Travel & Communication Services

  • "Home Free" Bus Service – Greyhound Lines, in conjunction with the National Runaway Safeline, will provide free one way transportation for runaway children returning home through its "Home Free" program.

Prevention & Intervention

  • flag  Street Outreach Program – Government program under the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) that funds local youth service providers to conduct street-based education and outreach. The program offers emergency shelter and related services to young people who have been, or who are at-risk of being, sexually abused or exploited. The goal of these efforts is to help young people leave the streets.
  • flag  Transition Living Program – Government program under FYSB that assists older and homeless youth, including pregnant and parenting teens, in developing skills to secure stable and permanent housing.
  • flag National Clearing House on Families and Youth (NCFY) – FYSB established this clearinghouse to assist individuals seeking to support young people and their families. In addition to sharing information through this web site, NCFY send materials for distribution at conferences and training events. The clearinghouse also conducts research on topics of interest to you, and link you with others who are working on similar issues.
  • Operation Go Home – Canadian organization dedicated to reuniting runaways with their families or matching them with agencies, which can provide help. Educational materials are also available.

For runaway hotlines in specific areas of the U.S., check the "Human Services" section of your local phone directory.

 

Federal resource = This article, publication, website, or organization is from the U.S. government.

Content last reviewed May 18, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

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