My child keeps running away is there anything I can do to help find them?

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare - you go to check on your child in the middle of the night, and they aren't there. Your heart starts pounding and you fly into panic mode, calling her friends, your relatives, and the police.

So what can you do to help find them?

Actually the best way to help find them is to actually get to know your child before they run away, know who their friends are and what they like to do. This will give you and the police a starting point. When a child or young person runs away from home it is unlikely that they will simply wander the streets for hours on end - it is more likely that they will go somewhere that they know and visit people that they are familiar with. If you already have this knowledge you will substantially increase the chances of finding them quickly.

We would always ask that parents would try to make contact with friends or relatives by telephone before calling the police to see if they have seen your child. Please bear in mind that friends may lie thinking that they are protecting your child so you shouldn't always take their word that they haven't seen them as being accurate. The police will always follow up telephone contact with a personal visit for this reason.

Many parents will want to go out and look for their child, this can be a good idea but always leave someone at home, if your child decides to come home and no one is there to let them in or greet them they may decide to turn back around again.

Some children will become involved in crime, drugs or alcohol and knowing what your child's habits and normal behaviour is can help to identify risk factors. Have they suddenly become more secretive? Are they suddenly coming home with new clothes or other expensive items? Have they recently had health problems that they didn't have before? If your child's behaviour suddenly changes you might want to ask why, it isn't always sinister but reassuring yourself that these are normal growing pains might help to allay some of your concerns. 

Understand what they are doing online. Many young people use the internet to communicate with their friends and will look up places to go and potential meeting points online. It can be a fine balance between keeping an eye on what your child is doing online and being too intrusive and losing their trust, simple tips like having the computer in a communal room where you can see it and actually taking an interest in what they are doing online can also help. As a backup plan many parents insist on having access to their child's passwords and accounts, this can give valuable information but has to be balanced against a child's desire for privacy, particularly the older a child gets. If you are too strict then your child will simply change their password or use the internet when you are not aware, such as at school or on their phone when they are out with friends.

There are online tools that can help locate your child, many smartphones and tablets come with online tracking built in such as Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager. These need to be activated beforehand but this only needs to be done once. Whilst these can be disabled if your child is smart enough they can also give you peace of mind that they are safe and not where they shouldn't be. There are other apps that can be used specifically for this purpose some others come with location sharing built in, Facebook and Twitter can be enabled to send a location when someone sends a message but again there is a balance between knowing where your child is and advertising their location to the rest of the world and this needs to be done with caution.

Social Media is one avenue that is often overlooked by parents, as is Social Messaging, many young people will converse with their friends using Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp or similar and these conversations are private between the participants, if they have been talking about meeting up then you will not be able to find this out.

Most importantly is to speak to your child when they are return and find out why they ran away; reading the riot act as soon as they walk through the door is likely to be met with a wall of silence so spending time the day after to speak to them calmly can be invaluable. Many young people using running away as a coping mechanism, they think they might be in trouble or can't face a tricky situation at home or at school and running away seems an easy choice to avoid that situation. Giving them some reassurance that they don't face these decisions alone and working through the problems can give your child the confidence to face up to life's problems in the future and give them the trust that they can talk to you before resorting to running away.

If your child is unable to talk to you about the reasons that they ran away also consider enlisting the help of a friend or relative that they will talk to or use a professional intermediary. Understanding why they ran away is key to preventing it happening again.


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