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When a child runs away, a parent’s first thought is usually “Are they safe?” The second is typically, “Where did she go, and where will she stay? The information below will provide some clues about where a runaway child is likely to be.

Where runaway children stay after leaving home Data from a 2010 study by the National Runaway Switchboard determined that kids stay in the following places immediately after running away:

Place  –  % first night % second night

  1. Friend’s home – 42.7 – 33.8
  2. Miscellaneous outdoor place – 9.8 – 11 .3
  3. In the park – 8.5 – 5.0
  4. A relative’s home – 8.5 – 12.5
  5. On the train – 6. 1 – 10.0
  6. Boyfriend’s/Girlfriend’s  home 3.7 5.0
  7. Shelter -3.7 – 5.0
  8. Abandoned building – 3.7 – 1 .3
  9. Another place indoors – 3.7 – 3.8
  10. Rooftop – 2.4 – 0.0
  11. At the beach – 2.4 – 6.3
  12. Girlfriend’s home – 1 .2 – 3.8
  13. Hospital – 1 .2 – 1 .3
  14. Squat 1 .2 1 .3
  15. Just walking around 1 .2 0.0

(Pergamit et al., 2010; National Runaway Switchboard)

You’ll notice there’s quite a bit of transition even from the first to second night, with some youth spending a night on the streets more or less before finding more accommodating arrangements, whereas others seem to have a place to stay only to end up on the streets the second night. Pergamit says that runaway youth typically “couch surf” at first – staying with friends and relatives before exhausting their goodwill and ending up on the streets. (Koch, 2010)

Finding a runaway: Where to look

Runaways, like the rest of us, prefer not to stray too far from their comfort zone. As Pergamit et ale (2010, p. 11) report, “The majority of youth (59 percent) report staying in their metropolitan area, while 26% stay in the neighborhood.” Fifty-six percent spend the first night at a friend or relatives, and 77% will spend at least one night at a friend’s house at some point.

  • Think of places your child is comfortable. Aside from friends or family, youth without a place to go will tend to gravitate to areas that are familiar and/or meaningful. One child may gravitate to the park they love, whereas the baseball star may head to the baseball fields or batting cages.

  • Many shelters won’t take anyone younger than 14, so you should hold off on checking these with younger children.

  • If your child took their cell phone and the phone is paid for under your plan with your signed agreement, there are often ways for the cell phone company to track it. If you gave your child a smart phone with a GPS, many companies even offer add on services where you can track the phone’s location from your computer.

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