It is important for professionals to be on the lookout for signs of dissatisfaction in the young people they work with. Rely on your observations and on your intuition and share your perceptions with the young person in question. It is better for you to err on the side of caution, than to leave the young person with the impression that nobody notices or is concerned about his/her situation. Here are some suggestions:
The best means of protecting young people who are on the run is to avoid losing contact and thus the trust you share. Suggest keeping in contact by telephone or by e-mail. This allows you to encourage them to provide you with information concerning where they are and their wellbeing, and permits you to continue to have a significant role in their lives.
Actually, running away is an expression, conscious or not, of suffering or dissatisfaction. 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.
While on the run, the young person, his/her parents or even the professionals might be faced with moments of confusion, powerlessness, and contradictions, i.e., crisis. Thus, it is necessary to respect everyone’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 or resolving the issues may close the doors to discussion rather than open them. It is essential that the young person, the parents/caregivers and the professionals search together for new and more satisfactory solutions for everyone. This exchange will be more difficult if you do not respect the time, the space and the energy necessary for each person involved.
For certain young people, running away becomes a means of resolving a problem. For others, it becomes an end in itself to gaining independence and no longer a means to finding solutions with their caregivers. Youth cite their family history, the number of placements and transfers (especially at an early age), and difficulties in making themselves heard as the primary factors that influence the repetitive running away. Studies indicate that as long as the message the youth is trying to express is not heard, at the beginning of their history of running away, repetition persists (Fredette and Plante, p. 47).
Parents/caregivers are also significant allies and leaders in the intervening with their children who have run away. They are important agents of change in the life of their child. However, the parents/caregivers often need help in order to contribute to the intervention plan. Thus, all professionals who intervene in these situations should consider the parent/caregiver-child relationship in his or her planning and make plans that include the rights and responsibilities of the parent and the child.