Answers to the most frequently asked questions

Are there warning signs before a child runs away from the family milieu?

It is easier to see these signs when running away is planned.  Here are some examples:

  • Your child is more nervous, agitated.
  • Your child is more isolated, doesn’t seek contact with other members of the family.
  • Communication has shut down or is very difficult.
  • The child talks about leaving, says that he or she can’t wait to have his or her own home, to be independent.
  • The child states that nothing is working at home, that he or she has had enough of the situation and is impatient to become an adult to have more autonomy.

I think that my child is going to run away, what can I do to avoid this situation?

If you noticed signs that make you think that your child is planning to run away, it is important to discuss this with him or her.  Communication is your best ally.  While keeping cool, you can let the child know you are worried, ask whether he or she is unsatisfied or experiencing a difficult situation and then, together, try to find the beginning of a solution.  What is essential is that your child knows that the message was understood or at least heard.  Also, it is possible that your child will criticize you.  Even if it is not always easy, it is important to maintain an attitude of openness concerning what he or she says.  If you adopt a defensive attitude, it is very possible that your discussion will become worse and there is a risk that your child will conclude that you always want to be right or even that you are not ready to respect what he or she is going through.  Don’t hesitate to start looking, ideally together, for support from the available resources, for example, at the school (specialized educator, psychologist, community worker, etc.) or at your neighborhood CLSC.  These resources can offer you good advice in addition to reducing your feeling of powerlessness, if this is the case.

Why did my child run away?

Running away is always a reaction, or a search for a reaction to a child’s needs.  There are many motivations that could lead your child to run away and here are some of them:  to oppose authority, to express dissatisfaction with his or her situation in life or an inability to deal with a difficult or unhappy situation, to test his or her capacity to manage things alone, to prove to himself or herself that she or he is capable of sorting things out alone, to test his or her limits, to develop his or her identity or to experiment with a new life style.

What are the signs that could tell me that my child has run away and not disappeared?

Your child has run away if he or she has indicated, either verbally or by behavior, a wish to leave the place where he or she lives.  Your child has run away if, before leaving, he or she has taken money, clothes or personal possessions.  Generally, you will not find any of these signs if the child has disappeared or if they ran away spontaneously. If you are not sure if your child has run away or has disappeared, don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1 to inform the police.  In a situation where you find signs that lead you to believe that your child has run away, you can consult the section What to do when your child has run away?

Who should I contact if I think my child has run away?

Before contacting the police, it is best to collect the most information possible.  Did your child take any money, personal possessions or clothes?  Where and with whom was your child before running away?  Once this step has been completed, dial 9-1-1.  For more information, you should consult the section What to do when your child has run away?

Is my child putting himself or herself in danger during this period?

Experiencing one, two or three nights outside the placement where your child normally lives could be sufficient for your child to communicate the message concerning his or her discomfort.  During this period, communication with your child is your best ally because it can permit you to prevent future episodes of this kind.  The risks increase considerably when running away becomes repetitive.  Your child can adapt to life in the streets (“getting stuck on the streets”) or live experiences that will mark him or her for life.  In addition, each time a child runs away increases the distance between him or her and the original place they lived.

How long can this period last?

According to the experience of the Montreal Police Department, the majority of young people who run away either return or are located within a period of 3 days.

As a parent, what are my legal obligations to my child?

According to the Quebec Civil Code, parents have a responsibility towards their children:  you must insure they are cared for, live in safety and are attending school.  Beyond these legal obligations, you are one of the most important people in their life.  You play a key role in resolving the situation with him or her and, in this way, avoid them running away again.  For more information you can consult the section The law and your rights.

Do I have an obligation to contact the police if my child runs away?

Contacting the police will permit you to find your child more rapidly and thus avoid him/her dealing with difficult and/or dangerous situations.  Informing the police does not necessarily mean that Youth Protection will place your child in custody.



The DYP only intervenes when a child is found to be in a compromising situation, where a child is in a situation that could put their safety or development at risk and where the parents cannot, or do not want to, protect the child.  For more information, you can consult the section on The law and your rights.

What should I do if my child does not want 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. What to do when your child has run away?

Whom should I contact if I feel helpless after my child ran away?

If your child has run away, remember that there are others who have had the same experience as you. Above all else, do not isolate yourself.  Call on the people around you and do not hesitate to contact the resources that can support you during this ordeal.  For example: Réseau Enfants Retour.  For more information, you can consult the section Resources.

What should I avoid in speaking with my child who has run away or when she or he comes home?

Avoid blaming your child, making promises, using threats or blackmail, insisting if he or she refuses to tell you where they are or, if the child is in a shelter for minors, going to get him or her yourself and forcing him or her to leave with you. Communication with your child is your best strategy but it requires time, space and the necessary energy.  For more information, you can consult the sections What to do when your child has run away? and What to do when your child has come home?