We are very concerned for the welfare and safety of our boys & girls who have runaway. We care about these children just as much as we care about a child who has been abducted by a stranger.

When a stranger abducts a child, the media follow the story closely because they know the child is in very grave danger.

It’s important to know that less than 1% of all missing children have been abducted by strangers.  In fact, the NISMART-2 study indicated that each year in the United States 115 children were victims of a stranger kidnapping. We want you to know that 90% of these children who were abducted by strangers are located and returned home safely.

By far, the most prevalent type of reported missing children in the United States are runaway/thrownaway children.  According to the National Runaway Safeline (Formerly the National Runaway Switchboard,) between 1.6-2.8 million youth runaway each year in the United States.  Children can begin running as young as ages 10-14. The youngest are the most at-risk for the dangers of street life.

Unfortunately, all too often runaway youth are often considered a family problem, rather than a child welfare and societal concern—in spite of the astronomical numbers of children who runaway.

PKF Caseworkers have heard runaway youth referred to as “unruly kids who choose not to follow rules,” or as “troublemakers,” “voluntarily missing,” or “just a runaway.”

Today we are sharing with you the truth: runaways are children in danger. They need to be searched for immediately and helped.


There is a very strong Runaway Myth that goes like this: 
“Children who runaway make their own decisions to go. Let them be, they’ve made their own choice and must deal with the consequences. If they want to come home they will.”

We want you to know the Runaway Myth makes several false assumptions. Let’s take a look at these assumptions and how they can impact our vulnerable, at-risk runaway children.


False Assumption #1: Teenagers are rational decision-makers, they make decisions and plan their actions with care.

We are the first to admit that there are teens who make considered decisions. But, we all know that the teen years are a time of life when kids are learning emotion and decision management.

The National Runaway Safeline tells us that more than 70 percent of teen runaways interviewed “described their leaving home as occurring on the spur of the moment.” Many kids didn’t even pack a bag, make sure they had money for food and shelter, or figure out where they were going to spend the night.

While most children who runaway return home safe within a week, the life changing hazards of living on the streets are very high for those who cannot return home because they have no home to go to, or they have become victims of prostitution or drug selling.


False Assumption #2: All homeless children have a home to return to.

Nearly half of the homeless kids surveyed by the National Runaway Safeline described situations where they were thrown out of their homes by their families or caregivers. These children literally have no place to go. They are called thrownaway children.

Additionally, a good number of runaways come from abusive homes where it was dangerous for them to live.

If homeless boys & girls do not find a reputable shelter, they may panhandle and sleep in parks or abandoned buildings. Survival requires more money than panhandling can provide. Many young people find themselves selling drugs or sex, not by choice, but through necessity.

It is estimated that many young people, especially girls, begin engaging in survival sex within 48 hours of leaving home. Sex for food and a place to stay can quickly escalate into formalized prostitution. This is why parents need to contact their local police the moment they realize their child has runaway. After contacting the police, please be sure to call the Polly Klaas Foundation for help in finding your child.


False Assumption #3:  Runaway/thrownaway children are capable of: 1) getting themselves out of whatever they were doing to survive and 2) returning home safely on their own.

It is true that some of the more independently minded runaway/thrownaway young people are capable of caring for themselves for years. Many could return home if they chose.

But, there are those children who have begun surviving by exchanging sex for food & shelter or started selling drugs, these children will quickly find themselves in a web of forced labor making money for pimps and pushers. For them there is no easy way home.


According to the National Runaway Safeline, children runaway because:

  • 47% of runaway youth report conflict between them and a parent/guardian in the home.
  • Over 50% of youth in shelters or on the streets reported that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care
  • 80% of runaway & homeless girls reported having been sexually or physically abused.
  • 34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home.
  • 43% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before leaving home.

Are runaway children at risk?

  • Over 70% of runaway youth have been considered to be endangered.
  • 7% of youth in runaway & homeless youth shelters and 14% of youth on the street had traded sex for money, food, shelter, or drugs.
  • 32% of runaway & homeless youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.


We hope we’ve provided you with a clearer yet desperate picture of runaway youth. These children often feel that running away and/or life on the street is their only choice due to their experiences of abuse, conflict or neglect at home. 

As you can see, runaways/thrownaways are children on the streets with no responsible caretaker. They often do not have a home to go back to. They are more likely to be victims of abduction, physical & sexual abuse, and sex trafficking.

All too often, our PKF Caseworkers see the very real dangers & tragedy that runaway youth endure. We understand each runaway child’s significant experiences & problems, as well as the problems & experiences of their parents and siblings. We work with them on a daily basis. Once a child returns home, PKF often provides professional counseling referrals for the child and the family so they can become healthy family unit.

One of PKF’s core values is that “we cherish children and protect them every way we can.” We want you to know that most of the missing children reported to the Polly Klaas Foundation are endangered runaways. We care about these children and we want you to care as well.

Cindy Rudometkin, the Polly Klaas Foundation’s Response Department Director, says that “no child is prepared for life on the streets. When a parent calls reporting that their child has runaway, we swing into action. We know the dangers of street life. The sooner we can help bring that child home, the better. They need to be immediately searched for and helped.”


 February, 2013