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Harboring a Runaway or not?

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  • Harboring a Runaway or not?

    My nephew, who is 17, took off from home after having an argument with his parents. He has been gone for over a week and had been staying with friends, etc. To give you a bit of history... the kid is not been behaving in the past year; he has several truancy tickets and has stolen money from his parents by using their ATM card so there have been many heated arguments.

    Since leaving he has kept in touch with his parents by telephone but he does not want to go back home because they have filed a runaway complaint with the police and have told him if he comes back home they will instruct the police to take him to a runaway shelter. And they are holding firm on this idea. I can see both sides of the story here... the young man doesn't want to go to a shelter so he won't return home, yet the parents simply are tired of putting up with their son's behavior and want him to be responsible for his actions.

    Now my dilemma... he has asked if he can stay with us so he can shower, eat, sleep, etc. but I'm afraid of the legal ramifications and consequences that may have since he is technically listed as a runaway. We've allowed him to stay a few nights to be sure he is taken care of and he's been an ideal guest. We've also talked to his parents so they know where he is staying. My big question... what can be done to help remedy this situation? Even if his parents know his whereabouts, is he still technically considered a runaway? I'm not sure what to do... but I certainly do not want to break any Wisconsin laws. Any advice?

  • #2
    Re: Harboring a Runaway or not?

    Thanks for contacting the National Runaway Switchboard. It sounds like you want the best for this youth and are rightly concerned for his well being. From what you wrote, it sounds as though your nephew has a lot going on right now and things were getting pretty heated at home. Is this the first time he has runaway? You wrote that he does not want to go home because he does not want to be sent to a runaway shelter. What does he think that might be like? If he does not go home, what is his plan? You asked what you can do to remedy this situation. While we don’t have any concrete answers to that, one option is to try and have an open conversation with your nephew about his thoughts and feelings. Helping him work out what happened and what he wants to see happen could help him decide for himself he might be able to help the situation.

    It is great that you are so involved in your nephew’s life and he is lucky to have someone care so much about him. Even though you have spoken with his parents, he could still be considered a runaway if he does not have the permission of his legal guardians to stay with you. How did your conversation with them go? As we are not legal experts, it is hard for us to answer your question about the possible consequences of “harboring a runaway”. According to Alone Without A Home (2003), “it is a crime for any person to knowingly and willfully conceal or harbor a runaway child who has run from his/her guardian”, but we can’t say how that law is applied in your area or the extent to which that law is enforced. Your local police might be able to tell you more about their procedures. Or, if you would like, you could call us at 1-800-RUNAWAY to talk about the situation and get a legal referral in your area.

    Another option you have is to share our number with your nephew. We are here 24/7 and there is always someone here to talk. We are certainly here to talk with your nephew and help him develop a plan that he is comfortable with.

    Best of Luck,
    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)

    Tell us what you think about your experience!


    • #3
      Re: Harboring a Runaway or not?

      Thanks so much for replying. Since writing I have spoken to my nephew's parents and they are going to cancel the runaway complaint with local law enforcement. They don't like the idea that he is not home, but understand that neither party is really ready to solve anything as tension is much too high. In the meantime, my nephew is going to continue to stay with us as long as he is obeying the rules and he stays in contact with his parents to work things out at home. Going forward he has also agreed to get a part-time job but I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

      To answer your questions... I don't believe he has runaway before but I know his parents have kicked him out of the house due to behavior/tolerance issues. I don't know how he feels about the runaway shelter but probably just scared to be in an unfamiliar environment. As far as his plan... he wants to be more independent, however, his past behavior doesn't warrant the approval from his parents to give him more leeway. The more strict they become -the more he rebels - it is a catch 22! Hopefully a little distance will help resolve the issues at home and maybe being a little more accountable for his actions at our house (as he knows if he messes up he is out) will make him realize his parents are just trying to look out for his well-being in the long run.

      Again thanks for your help- its nice to know there is a service to turn to for a little advice.


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