After running away

The interventions you use to welcome back a child who has run away is really important because the context which initiated the act of running away has proven to be one of the principal factors influencing whether or not they will run away in the future. These young people risk leaving their care situation again if:

  • running away turned out to be a positive experience
  • returning was not voluntary, if they are still in the “honeymoon” period, and enjoyed what it was like to be on the run (Fredette and Plante, p. 41)
  • their situation hasn’t changed and if their needs are still not met.

Intervention with returning runaways should be aimed at understanding the meaning behind their actions.  It is not about investigating their activities, the places and the individuals that they encountered during their period away, but rather about understanding their motivations for running away.

Thus, it is necessary to respect these young people’s rhythm when you bring up what they experienced during the period when they were away.  Certain children need to decompress, to retreat, because their experience was not necessarily agreeable.  Rushing into questioning them will not encourage them to open up.  It is more important to meet their material, emotional and safety needs than the professional’s need to gather more information or controlling the situation.  How you act with these young people will determine whether or not they will open up and share what they experienced during their period away.  Young people open up if they have confidence in you and they are not afraid of being judged.  They will become involved in the plans for their return, if they can participate in the process of decision making that leads to finding solutions.

Being able to intervene with and help young people is based on the authenticity of your relationship with them and their family, as well as respect for their right to integrity, dignity and privacy.  By recognizing the strengths and capacities of the youth and their immediate social supports, you are validating their right to experiment and to fail and that taking risks is part of all adolescents’ development.  If your approach is non-judgmental and you avoid relying solely on your own personal interpretation of the events , you will be better able to understand why the youth ran away, what led to this action, what it means to them, what messages they were trying to convey and, eventually, to conceivable alternatives in order to avoid a repetition.