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Is it better to let a runaway stay with me or turn her away

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  • Is it better to let a runaway stay with me or turn her away

    I have a young person that is my step-child from a previous marriage. We are very close and they confide in me. I know that they have been physically and sexually abused by there father, I was there. I reported it to DSS several times and was told that I was just trying to get back at my ex. The child contacted me several months ago about the abuse by their new step-mother. She is an alcoholic and a drug user. The child wanted to run away at that time but I talked them out of it. I was hoping they could make it until they turned 16 and then try to go thru the courts to come live with me. I received visitation in my divorce. A month ago they called me because things at home had gotten very bad and some adult friends had threatened to beat them up. They said the were running with or without my help. I helped them dissappear. I put them in contact with NRS to let their father know they were alright. I hooked them up with a family member for a place to stay for a while. While there they began to come out of the shell they live in and now act and talk like a normal teenager. It is a blessing. We are from a small town and rumors are flying about what was done and other people are going to get into trouble, so today I am going to go to the police and tell them what I did. I will not betray the child. My question is would it have been better to let them run and live on the street or take them in and protect them? The place they are staying is safe and they like it there but everyone is now afraid of going to prison for "harboring a runaway", as the plice have put it. What exactly are the laws in this area? We live in Colorado, but the child ran to Nebraska. They will be 16 in a few weeks. What do I do? We tried for years to get them safe from their father and this was out of desperation. I have told them that no matter what happens to me they should not come back because it is not a safe place for them and now her father is very angry.

  • #2
    Re: Is it better to let a runaway stay with me or turn her away

    Thank you for reaching out to the National Runaway Switchboard. This sounds like a really tough situation for you and your family and, from what you wrote, it is obvious that you have tried very hard to keep these youth safe. They are really lucky to have someone who cares so much for them and is willing to advocate on their behalf.

    We are really sorry to hear that DSS was not responsive to your reports of physical and sexual abuse. That must have been really frustrating for you and them. Do you know if your step-child ever confided in anyone else about what was going on? Maybe like a teacher or a doctor or one of their friends’ parents? If they did, what was their reaction? Teachers and doctors are mandated reporters, so they would have been required by law to report any child abuse. Do you know if anyone else (besides yourself) ever filed a report with DSS? What do you think would happen if your step-child or a trusted adult tried to file an abuse report now? To our understanding, there is no statute of limitations on reporting child abuse. While we could understand why you might feel very discouraged with DSS, do you think that it might be useful to try again? Usually people who are helping runaways stay safe and off the streets do not get in trouble for “harboring a runaway”, so it may prove to be beneficial to try and make another report. If that is something that you or your step-child decides to pursue, Justice for Children (1-800-733-0059) might have some useful advice for you. Or, you can check them out on the web at We here at NRS are also mandated reporters, so anyone here at 1-800-RUNAWAY can also help you file an abuse report. We could talk with you or the youth about what happened and either (a) get the details from them and contact DSS on their behalf or (b) conference a call with DSS with the youth on the line and act as an advocate for the youth.

    It sounds like right now, however, your main questions is “would it have been better to let them run and live on the street or take them in and protect them?” That is a very tough and complicated question. From all that you have described, it is clear that you did your best to help these youth stay safe and out of harms way. Furthermore, you wrote that now that they are out of the abusive situation they are starting to “come out of their shell” and act like normal teenagers. From all of that, it sounds as though they are in a more secure environment and are happier than they were while at home. With all of that being said, their legal guardian still has custody of them and that means that, legally, they have control of where and with whom they can live. Since they left home without permission their legal guardian can file a runaway report with the police. Do you know if this has been done? The consequences for being filed as a runaway vary from state to state and even sometimes from county to county. But, usually if a youth is classified as a runaway the police can pick them up and bring them back to their legal guardian. Sometimes police search for runaways and sometimes they do not. Do you know if the police have started an investigation? From what you wrote, it sounds as though the police have warned you and/or others that they could face legal consequences for harboring a runaway. Is this true? What information have they provided? In terms of finding out about the laws in your area, the local police or a legal expert in your area will probably have the most up to date and comprehensive information. Since we are not legal experts here and the laws vary from area to area, it is hard for us to know what the laws are in your hometown. If you are interested in finding legal help, we could refer you to low-cost legal services in or near your area. Give the pros and cons of your decision to help the youth, how do you feel about what you did? Was it better to take them in and protect them or let them run and live on the street?

    From what you wrote, it seems as though you have already decided to go talk to the police today. Do you know what you might say? What are you hoping to get from the conversation? What do you think might happen? You said that you are not planning on betraying the child, but what exactly does that mean? What do you think the police will do? What is the best case scenario? What is the worst? It is very brave of you to try and face the situation head on and you should be proud of your courageous actions.

    We wish you the best of luck and if you ever need to talk, don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-RUNAWAY.
    Please remember you can reach us directly by calling our 24 hour hotline, 1-800-RUNAWAY (786-2929) or through our Live Chat.

    National Runaway Safeline
    [email protected] (Crisis Email)
    1-800-RUNAWAY (24 Hour Hotline)

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