18 AMERICAN BLUES THEATER When a stranger abducts a child, the media follow the story closely because they know the child is in very grave danger. However, 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 and 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 children. According to the National Runaway Safeline, between 1.6 - 2.8 million youth runaway each year in the United States. Unfortunately, all too often runaway youth are often considered a family problem, rather than a child welfare and societal concern. Polly Klaas Foundation 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.” However, the truth is that 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.” The Runaway Myth makes several false assumptions: False Assumption #1: Teenagers are rational decision-makers, they make decisions and plan their actions with care. There are certainly teens who make considered decisions. But, we all know that the teen years are a time of life when children are learning emotion and decision management. The National Runaway Safeline tells us that more than 70% 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. 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 children 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 one of the reasons why parents need to contact their local police the moment they realize their child has runaway. False Assumption #3: Runaway children are capable of getting themselves out of whatever they were doing to survive and returning home safely on their own. It is true that some of the more independently minded runaway young people are capable of caring for themselves for years. Many could return home if they chose. But, for children who have begun surviving through illegal activity, they can quickly find themselves in a web of forced labor making money for others. For them there is no easy way home. ABOUT RUNAWAY YOUTH In On Clover Road “Kate’s” daughter has run away from home. The below outlines some statistics about runaway youth and addresses some of the myths surrounding runaways.