What to do when your child has run away?

Your child has run away.  In spite of the intensity of the emotions you are experiencing, it is important to keep calm in order to have the necessary energy to take the steps that will permit you to find your child and welcome him/her when he/she comes back.

The first thing to do is to try to put together as much information as possible.  This step is essential because it will help in directing an efficient search.  To do this, you should check your child’s bedroom to identify the things that he/she took on leaving.  You can also contact his/her friends, the school and the workplace to determine the last place where he/she was seen as well as his/her routine, circle of friends and frame of mind before running away.  Any change should be considered:  new circle of friends, skipping school, low marks at school, fatigue, isolation, drug/alcohol use, references to suicide, etc.

After gathering this information, call 9-1-1.  A police officer will visit in order to collect all the information that will help them to find your child:  a physical description, a recent photo, a message that was left behind, the names of friends, habits/ routines, address book, agenda, as well as all the information you gathered during the previous step.

If your child contacts you after having left, keep calm.  Even if it is difficult, it is essential is to maintain a relationship with your child, whether or not they decide to come home.  Tell your child that you are relieved to hear from him/her but describe your worrying, your anguish or sadness so that she/he does not think you are not interested in their wellbeing even if you are trying to stay calm.

Make sure that your child is safe without necessarily trying to convince him or her to come back.  Avoid blaming, making promises, insisting if your child refuses to say where he/she is or using threats or blackmail him or her into coming back; your child may simply cut off communication.  Instead, ask direct questions:  Are you safe? Can you speak freely? Can you leave where you are?  Do you want me to come get you?  If your child is in danger it is possible that he/she will let you, the police or youth protection know.

Prepare yourself to negotiate your child’s return. Whether it’s during the child’s absence or after he/she returns, sooner or later you will have to talk about resolving the situation.  Here are some starting points for thinking about why they ran away:  Why did the child leave?  What does his/her running away mean?  What message does your child want to communicate?  What are the possible compromises from your point of view?  What are your limits?  How might you help your child avoid using running away as a solution to a problem?

If your child is not ready to come back, it is essential to avoid breaking off communication.  Suggesting a telephone meeting or exchanging e-mails could encourage him or her to keep in contact.  That said, the frequency of these exchanges should be clearly determined, for example, every day, every other day or once a week.  You could also propose a meeting in a neutral location, for example, a coffee shop, in order to have a discussion.  If your child accepts, it is important to go yourself and not send a third party in your place because you could lose your child’s trust in you.

If your child has run away, it is essential to take care of yourself because you will need all of your energy to receive him or her when he/she comes back.  Your child’s running away may result in your feeling many emotions like sadness, anger or anguish.  These emotions are completely understandable.  Don’t blame yourself and don’t try to ignore them because they risk becoming more intense.  Don’t think you alone living this situation and, above all, don’t isolate yourself.  The more that you mobilize the people around you, the more you increase your chances of finding your child. Don’t hesitate to contact the resources that can support you during this ordeal, like Réseau Enfants Retour. (Inclure le lien menant à la section 2.6)