Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center


RunawaysA runaway is a minor who leaves their parent or guardian without permission or has been dismissed by their parents. A child is considered to be a runaway when he or she is 14 or under or mentally disabled and leaves home without permission and stays away for at least one night or is 15 or older and is away from home without permission for two nights and elects not to return home. Children who are abandoned by their parents or guardians are often referred to a “throwaway” youth.

Runaway Statistics

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has published statistics regarding minors who have run away from home. Of more than 20,500 missing children reports, 90 percent of those are what are considered “endangered runaways.” 47 percent of minors who run away from home report a conflict between themselves and their parent or guardian. Half of all runaway minors report that their parents told them to leave or knew they were running away and did not care. Females make up 75 percent of minors who run away from home and 80 percent of the girls report having been sexually or physically abused. 34 percent of runaway youth report being sexually abused before leaving home and 43 percent report that physical abuse occurred in the home.

Juvenile Runaway Endangerments

The U.S. National Criminal Justice Reference Service has specified nine different factors that would make a child an “endangered runaway” more likely to be the victim of crime or abuse:

  1. Abuse in the Home – Minors who were physically or sexually abused in the home within a year of running away are considered to be at risk for further harm. Their running away is often sudden without a plan and without money and they are often afraid to return home.

  2. Drug Use – Minors who abuse drugs are considered endangered as they are more likely to end up in dangerous environments.

  3. Age – Runaways who are 13 and under are considered to be at a high risk of harm.

  4. Environment – A child who spent time in high-crime areas, who missed five days of school after running away or who had previously run away face a greater risk of harm.

  5. Company – Children who associate with drug users, gang members or other people involved in criminal activity are at a greater risk of physical harm upon running away from home.

  6. Criminal Activity – Minors engaged in criminal activity, especially prostitution, are at risk of being exploited or hurt.

  7. Mental Health – Minors who have mental or developmental disabilities face unique dangers and may be unable to receive medication or proper treatment.

  8. Assault – Runaways who have been the victims of physical or sexual assault are statistically more likely to face further harm.

  9. Physical Health – Runaways who have certain medical conditions are at risk of aggravating their conditions due to stress and limited access to medications and medical care.

Runaways and the Law

In some states, it is a crime to run away from home if you are not an emancipated minor. In other states, running away from home may not be considered a crime, however a child can be taken into custody and made a ward of the Juvenile court system and either be returned to their parents or placed in a suitable home.

Many juveniles who run away from home become involved in criminal activities. Many minors are pressured into prostitution and are targeted by pimps and sex traffickers. These minors are rarely prosecuted and are often considered to be victims. Many juvenile runaways become involved in selling or transporting drugs. This is a serious criminal offense that can lead to felony-level charges. In some cases, Federal authorities may become involved and the consequences can be severe. In Federal court, juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent are half as likely to be sentenced to confinement as adults involved in the same type of criminal activities.