[Hpn] When vulnerable teens take flight ~ Little is known about why they run

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Fri, 11 Aug 2006 07:47:04 -0400


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When vulnerable teens take flight
Little is known about why they run

15-year-old girls most susceptible

Aug. 11, 2006

ANDREA GORDON
FAMILY ISSUES REPORTER


Lisa Greenaway lurches awake in the dead of night, her stomach churning. =
She pictures her 15-year-old daughter, yearns to know where she is.=20

During the day, Greenaway searches - online, by phone, sometimes showing =
up at local teen hangouts to hear the latest word - and is in regular =
contact with police. And all the while, the Bowmanville mother tries to =
rein in her anxiety so it doesn't spill over to her three younger =
children.=20

It has been more than six weeks since Robyn ran away, for the second =
time. The first was in June for four days. Greenaway has heard from her =
once by email and twice through MSN. The messages said she was safe but =
that she couldn't stand the rules at home with her mother, stepfather =
and siblings. No one in the family knows where she is or if and when she =
is coming back.=20

"This is the hardest thing I've ever gone through," says Greenaway, 39. =
"I don't ever stop worrying."=20

Every year, especially in summer, thousands of families across the =
country go through similar agonies. According to the Canadian Police =
Information Centre (CPIC), there were 51,280 runaway reports in 2005, =
with almost a third from Ontario. While that was down slightly from =
2004, the trend has climbed 25 per cent in the past two decades.=20

Tim Huff, who has worked with homeless youth on Toronto streets for the =
past 20 years, sometimes gets pleas from mothers and fathers. They send =
him pictures. They want to know "Have you seen my son?" or "Please, =
please, help me find my daughter."=20

Despite the growing numbers, surprisingly little is known about the =
youth behind the runaway statistics, other than in about nine reports =
out of 10, the child eventually returns home, and most within a week. =
And that the largest group of runaways reported to Child Find Ontario, =
an agency that searches for missing children and youth, is 15-year-old =
girls.=20

But even that doesn't paint an accurate picture, because the stats =
include every time a repeat or chronic runner is reported missing. And =
they don't include kids whose disappearance is not reported.=20

Marlene Dalley, research officer with the RCMP's National Missing =
Children Services in Ottawa, says she wants to see more detailed =
tracking and attention to runaways. Other much smaller categories of =
missing children reports - such as those abducted by strangers or =
parents - get a lot more attention, even though those incidents have =
been declining and far fewer families are affected.=20

For police, runaways are among the most common investigations. And yet, =
Dalley notes, no one knows how many actual kids are represented in the =
CPIC reports, why they are running, where they go and how many return =
home to stay.=20

The numbers don't distinguish a kid who is rebelling against a curfew =
and takes off to a boyfriend's for the weekend from one who has been =
sexually abused and flees to live on the streets.=20

"We can't categorize these children because we don't know."=20

In Ontario, youth can legally live on their own at age 16. Police will =
investigate cases of teens reported missing. But if they are 16, they =
can't force them to return home.=20

Agencies and social services that work with street kids and runaways are =
required to alert police or the Children's Aid Society when minors come =
to them.=20

Youth counsellors and others who work with street kids are quick to =
stress that regardless of why an adolescent has left home, their aim is =
to help them.=20

Runaway teens come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and run for myriad =
reasons, even though a common view is that most are abuse victims. "I =
think that's people's perception, but I don't agree," says Lesley =
Greene, manager of youth services for Operation Go Home, a national =
network based in Ottawa that works with street youth and reunites teens =
with their families.=20

That view may prevail because both the research and the experience of =
youth workers shows a large percentage of street youth who use social =
services, shelters and drop-ins have been physically, sexually or =
emotionally abused or neglected and don't feel their homes are safe.=20

These are the easiest kids for researchers to access, but there are many =
more who shuffle between homes of friends and relatives or who are =
"in-and-out homeless," regularly hitting the streets for brief stints =
and then returning home.=20

While the reasons kids run are varied and complex, some of the =
underlying dynamics are similar, says Colin Dart, executive director of =
Turning Point Youth Services in downtown Toronto.=20

Many struggle with mental health problems, often undiagnosed, and the =
substance abuse that frequently goes hand in hand with that.=20

The common theme is that family communication has shut down and the =
youth finds home life intolerable.=20

Online questions to Kids Help Phone, a national 24-hour-day anonymous =
counselling service, provide a snapshot of teens who feel misunderstood =
or in constant clashes with parents. Kids write about feeling rejected, =
confused, resentful, unloved. In some cases, they are furious over rules =
or curfews, trying to exert some control or test parents' reactions.=20

Although there is no way to verify their stories, Sophia Labont=E9 says =
it reflects what she has heard from kids through phone calls and online =
during her six years as a Toronto-based Kids Help counsellor.=20

She says the organization hears most from kids 14 to 16 - the stage when =
teens are prone to being impulsive, emotional and egocentric, and have a =
hard time weighing the consequences of their actions.=20

"Everything is so acute at this stage," says Labont=E9. "I really do =
think it's the most dangerous age."=20

Huff says he comes across kids who adore their parents but leave because =
of circumstances outside the home, ranging from drugs and gangs to =
learning problems or bullying that has made school life unbearable.=20

"There are a lot of kids who go through a lot of stuff between 9 o'clock =
and 4 o'clock that their parents don't know about."=20

Those who work with street youth say they also see kids from loving =
homes who look to the streets for excitement, to prove themselves or to =
be cool. They either become part of the street scene, or get mocked by =
the hardcore kids as "twinkies" and "weekend warriors" and go back home. =


According to Trish Derby, executive director of Child Find Ontario, an =
increasing number - particularly 15-year-old girls - are lured by people =
they meet on Internet websites or in chatrooms. All it takes is a couple =
of posts on MySpace about being miserable at home to attract the =
attention of predatory men, she says.=20

Street workers and researchers agree there are several things parents =
should know:=20

a.. Running away needs to be taken seriously - even if a teen ends up at =
a friend's house. It can become habitual and turn into a cycle of power =
struggles between parents and kids. Those who start as "couch surfers," =
crashing with various friends, can end up on the street when they've =
exhausted their network. And even one night is a big risk, says Huff.=20
a.. Runaways are vulnerable to making bad decisions, especially if they =
have no means of support. They are at high risk of sexual exploitation, =
drug use, violence and illness.=20
a.. Parents should think about the issue and discuss it with kids. =
Taking off is often impulsive and the majority of teens act so quickly =
that they don't even take time to get their things together first. Lisa =
Greenaway worries that her daughter doesn't have a health card. =
Organizations in some communities offer preventive programs. Operation =
Go Home runs regular sessions at Ottawa-area high schools to educate =
kids about the streets, especially those with idealized views of =
excitement and freedom.=20

"I tell them, `You may not like the rules at home but there are always =
going to be rules in your life and the rules on the street are going to =
be different,'" says Greene. Shelters have curfews and the streets have =
some dangerous unspoken rules.=20

Child Find Ontario recently conducted a year-long pilot project with =
Peel Region police that involved visiting Grade 7 and 8 classrooms, and =
sending kids home with surveys to complete with parents and promote =
family discussions.=20

As Greenaway discovered, even when parents hear alarm bells, it can be a =
long wait to find help for an adolescent in distress. Earlier this year, =
as she became increasingly worried about her daughter's mood swings and =
isolation, she sought help from two local youth and family centres and =
they met with both. But the soonest Robyn could get in for regular =
counselling and a full assessment was September.=20

"The downfall is there's no immediate help for these kids unless there's =
an immediate danger of them harming themselves,"Greenaway says.=20

Grandparents, family friends and teachers tried to offer the teenager =
support and encouragement. Then one day in June, she didn't come home =
from school. She returned four days later, the morning after Durham =
police issued a news release.=20

On June 26, after her last exam, she left again.=20

In a brief MSN conversation last month, Greenaway told her daughter she =
loves her and wants her to come back. But the anxious mother also knows =
she can only do so much, even if they do manage to find her. Next month, =
she turns 16.=20

"Do we force her to come home, only to have her run away again?"



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<DIV class=3Dheadline>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV class=3Dheadline>When vulnerable teens take flight</DIV>
<DIV class=3Dsubheadline>Little is known about why they =
run<BR><BR>15-year-old=20
girls most susceptible</DIV>
<DIV class=3Dsubheadline>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV class=3Dpubdate>Aug.&nbsp;11, 2006</DIV>
<DIV class=3Dpubdate>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV class=3Dbyline>ANDREA GORDON</DIV>
<DIV class=3Dbyline>FAMILY ISSUES REPORTER</DIV><BR>
<DIV class=3Darticlebody><!-- icx_story_begin -->Lisa Greenaway lurches =
awake in=20
the dead of night, her stomach churning. She pictures her 15-year-old =
daughter,=20
yearns to know where she is.=20
<P></P>During the day, Greenaway searches =97 online, by phone, =
sometimes showing=20
up at local teen hangouts to hear the latest word =97 and is in regular =
contact=20
with police. And all the while, the Bowmanville mother tries to rein in =
her=20
anxiety so it doesn't spill over to her three younger children.=20
<P></P>It has been more than six weeks since Robyn ran away, for the =
second=20
time. The first was in June for four days. Greenaway has heard from her =
once by=20
email and twice through MSN. The messages said she was safe but that she =

couldn't stand the rules at home with her mother, stepfather and =
siblings. No=20
one in the family knows where she is or if and when she is coming back.=20
<P></P>"This is the hardest thing I've ever gone through," says =
Greenaway, 39.=20
"I don't ever stop worrying."=20
<P></P>Every year, especially in summer, thousands of families across =
the=20
country go through similar agonies. According to the Canadian Police =
Information=20
Centre (CPIC), there were 51,280 runaway reports in 2005, with almost a =
third=20
from Ontario. While that was down slightly from 2004, the trend has =
climbed 25=20
per cent in the past two decades.=20
<P></P>Tim Huff, who has worked with homeless youth on Toronto streets =
for the=20
past 20 years, sometimes gets pleas from mothers and fathers. They send =
him=20
pictures. They want to know "Have you seen my son?" or "Please, please, =
help me=20
find my daughter."=20
<P></P>Despite the growing numbers, surprisingly little is known about =
the youth=20
behind the runaway statistics, other than in about nine reports out of =
10, the=20
child eventually returns home, and most within a week. And that the =
largest=20
group of runaways reported to Child Find Ontario, an agency that =
searches for=20
missing children and youth, is 15-year-old girls.=20
<P></P>But even that doesn't paint an accurate picture, because the =
stats=20
include every time a repeat or chronic runner is reported missing. And =
they=20
don't include kids whose disappearance is not reported.=20
<P></P>Marlene Dalley, research officer with the RCMP's National Missing =

Children Services in Ottawa, says she wants to see more detailed =
tracking and=20
attention to runaways. Other much smaller categories of missing children =
reports=20
=97 such as those abducted by strangers or parents =97 get a lot more =
attention,=20
even though those incidents have been declining and far fewer families =
are=20
affected.=20
<P></P>For police, runaways are among the most common investigations. =
And yet,=20
Dalley notes, no one knows how many actual kids are represented in the =
CPIC=20
reports, why they are running, where they go and how many return home to =
stay.=20
<P></P>The numbers don't distinguish a kid who is rebelling against a =
curfew and=20
takes off to a boyfriend's for the weekend from one who has been =
sexually abused=20
and flees to live on the streets.=20
<P></P>"We can't categorize these children because we don't know."=20
<P></P>In Ontario, youth can legally live on their own at age 16. Police =
will=20
investigate cases of teens reported missing. But if they are 16, they =
can't=20
force them to return home.=20
<P></P>Agencies and social services that work with street kids and =
runaways are=20
required to alert police or the Children's Aid Society when minors come =
to them.=20

<P></P>Youth counsellors and others who work with street kids are quick =
to=20
stress that regardless of why an adolescent has left home, their aim is =
to help=20
them.=20
<P></P>Runaway teens come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and run for =
myriad=20
reasons, even though a common view is that most are abuse victims. "I =
think=20
that's people's perception, but I don't agree," says Lesley Greene, =
manager of=20
youth services for Operation Go Home, a national network based in Ottawa =
that=20
works with street youth and reunites teens with their families.=20
<P></P>That view may prevail because both the research and the =
experience of=20
youth workers shows a large percentage of street youth who use social =
services,=20
shelters and drop-ins have been physically, sexually or emotionally =
abused or=20
neglected and don't feel their homes are safe.=20
<P></P>These are the easiest kids for researchers to access, but there =
are many=20
more who shuffle between homes of friends and relatives or who are =
"in-and-out=20
homeless," regularly hitting the streets for brief stints and then =
returning=20
home.=20
<P></P>While the reasons kids run are varied and complex, some of the =
underlying=20
dynamics are similar, says Colin Dart, executive director of Turning =
Point Youth=20
Services in downtown Toronto.=20
<P></P>Many struggle with mental health problems, often undiagnosed, and =
the=20
substance abuse that frequently goes hand in hand with that.=20
<P></P>The common theme is that family communication has shut down and =
the youth=20
finds home life intolerable.=20
<P></P>Online questions to Kids Help Phone, a national 24-hour-day =
anonymous=20
counselling service, provide a snapshot of teens who feel misunderstood =
or in=20
constant clashes with parents. Kids write about feeling rejected, =
confused,=20
resentful, unloved. In some cases, they are furious over rules or =
curfews,=20
trying to exert some control or test parents' reactions.=20
<P></P>Although there is no way to verify their stories, Sophia =
Labont=E9 says it=20
reflects what she has heard from kids through phone calls and online =
during her=20
six years as a Toronto-based Kids Help counsellor.=20
<P></P>She says the organization hears most from kids 14 to 16 =97 the =
stage when=20
teens are prone to being impulsive, emotional and egocentric, and have a =
hard=20
time weighing the consequences of their actions.=20
<P></P>"Everything is so acute at this stage," says Labont=E9. "I really =
do think=20
it's the most dangerous age."=20
<P></P>Huff says he comes across kids who adore their parents but leave =
because=20
of circumstances outside the home, ranging from drugs and gangs to =
learning=20
problems or bullying that has made school life unbearable.=20
<P></P>"There are a lot of kids who go through a lot of stuff between 9 =
o'clock=20
and 4 o'clock that their parents don't know about."=20
<P></P>Those who work with street youth say they also see kids from =
loving homes=20
who look to the streets for excitement, to prove themselves or to be =
cool. They=20
either become part of the street scene, or get mocked by the hardcore =
kids as=20
"twinkies" and "weekend warriors" and go back home.=20
<P></P>According to Trish Derby, executive director of Child Find =
Ontario, an=20
increasing number =97 particularly 15-year-old girls =97 are lured by =
people they=20
meet on Internet websites or in chatrooms. All it takes is a couple of =
posts on=20
MySpace about being miserable at home to attract the attention of =
predatory men,=20
she says.=20
<P></P>Street workers and researchers agree there are several things =
parents=20
should know:=20
<P></P>
<LI>Running away needs to be taken seriously =97 even if a teen ends up =
at a=20
friend's house. It can become habitual and turn into a cycle of power =
struggles=20
between parents and kids. Those who start as "couch surfers," crashing =
with=20
various friends, can end up on the street when they've exhausted their =
network.=20
And even one night is a big risk, says Huff.=20
<LI>Runaways are vulnerable to making bad decisions, especially if they =
have no=20
means of support. They are at high risk of sexual exploitation, drug =
use,=20
violence and illness.=20
<LI>Parents should think about the issue and discuss it with kids. =
Taking off is=20
often impulsive and the majority of teens act so quickly that they don't =
even=20
take time to get their things together first. Lisa Greenaway worries =
that her=20
daughter doesn't have a health card. Organizations in some communities =
offer=20
preventive programs. Operation Go Home runs regular sessions at =
Ottawa-area high=20
schools to educate kids about the streets, especially those with =
idealized views=20
of excitement and freedom.=20
<P></P>"I tell them, `You may not like the rules at home but there are =
always=20
going to be rules in your life and the rules on the street are going to =
be=20
different,'" says Greene. Shelters have curfews and the streets have =
some=20
dangerous unspoken rules.=20
<P></P>Child Find Ontario recently conducted a year-long pilot project =
with Peel=20
Region police that involved visiting Grade 7 and 8 classrooms, and =
sending kids=20
home with surveys to complete with parents and promote family =
discussions.=20
<P></P>As Greenaway discovered, even when parents hear alarm bells, it =
can be a=20
long wait to find help for an adolescent in distress. Earlier this year, =
as she=20
became increasingly worried about her daughter's mood swings and =
isolation, she=20
sought help from two local youth and family centres and they met with =
both. But=20
the soonest Robyn could get in for regular counselling and a full =
assessment was=20
September.=20
<P></P>"The downfall is there's no immediate help for these kids unless =
there's=20
an immediate danger of them harming themselves,"Greenaway says.=20
<P></P>Grandparents, family friends and teachers tried to offer the =
teenager=20
support and encouragement. Then one day in June, she didn't come home =
from=20
school. She returned four days later, the morning after Durham police =
issued a=20
news release.=20
<P></P>On June 26, after her last exam, she left again.=20
<P></P>In a brief MSN conversation last month, Greenaway told her =
daughter she=20
loves her and wants her to come back. But the anxious mother also knows =
she can=20
only do so much, even if they do manage to find her. Next month, she =
turns 16.=20
<P></P>"Do we force her to come home, only to have her run away =
again?"<!-- icx_story_end --></LI></DIV></DIV>

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