Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Juvenile Runaways

The table below summarizes the responses to juvenile runaways, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
Agency-Level Responses
1Appointing a local runaway coordinatorFortifies interagency connections, ensures action plans are implementedthe coordinator has contacts at each agency and specific expertise in runaway issuesBuilding relationships and establishing credibility takes time; may not reflect current staffing priorities
2 Collaborating with social service agenciesAttends to immediate safety issues as well as more complex issues underlying runaway behaviorsocial service agencies take responsibility for negotiating the return of juveniles and agency confidentiality policies are compatibleCrafting formalized agreements takes time; protocols lose their effectiveness if they are not supported by a range of follow-up services; differing treatment philosophies among agencies make consensus difficult to achieve; most programs have limited service capacities that may not be able to absorb increased referrals
3Developing joint protocols with foster care providers and group homesClassifies absences according to severity; determines appropriate threshold for police involvement; conserves police resources...substitute care providers and police agree on the appropriate priority level for each type of absence, inexperienced staff and officers are trained to classify cases accurately, and a risk assessment protocol is usedIf absences are misclassified as a low priority, may fail to protect juveniles from harm and may create a liability issue; protocols require consistency across a potentially large number of partners
4Cross-training staff from multiple agenciesIncreases quality of interaction with runaways and families; encourages mutual respect for differing agency objectives and mandatesthe training curriculum is jointly developed by representatives from agencies involvedTraining is not effective as a stand-alone strategy
5Sharing informationImproves ability to serve juveniles and families appropriatelyagencies balance need for information with respect for confidentialityStaff and officers must have a strategy for dealing with a potentially large volume of information; agreements to share information may deter some juveniles from revealing important information
6Assessing riskClassifies juveniles according to risk of harm and deploys limited police resources accordinglypolice obtain interagency agreement on the types of cases to which resources will be dedicated and responding officers are trained in risk assessment proceduresJuveniles who do not meet the threshold for police intervention may also be in jeopardy or may also threaten public safety
Specific Responses to Juvenile Runaways
Before They Run
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
7Providing prevention materials when responding to calls for serviceOffers assistance to families who are at risk of a runaway episodea sufficient array of resources is available to support parents and juvenilesFamily engagement with services is not guaranteed; information does not reach families in need who do not come in contact with police
8Using respite careGives family members a break from each other so immediate crisis can be resolved without a runaway episodeprofessional counselors help family develop coping strategies to avert future crises and there is political support for placement alternatives to juvenile hallRespite care must have 24-hour availability; family reunification is not always safe or desirable
When They Run
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
9Using Missing From Care formsImproves quality of police investigation by highlighting relevant factsthe form is promptly submitted to correct police department representativeStaff time spent completing may be unnecessary if juveniles return shortly after departure
10Determining whether absences are voluntary or involuntaryEnsures time-sensitive responses to abduction are implemented when necessarypolice are well-trained in investigating missing persons reports and parents or staff are able to provide sufficient information about juveniles disappearancesIf absences are misclassified, may fail to protect juveniles and may create liability issues
11Diverting cases to a community-based organizationTransfers responsibility for family services to an agency better equipped to provide them; addresses underlying causes of problemprogram staff are available 24 hours a day, services are free, and program staff handle all processing and paperworkStaffing 24-hour programs can be difficult and expensive
While They Are Absent From Home or Care
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
12Referring juveniles to appropriate social service providersTransfers responsibility for juveniles and family services to an agency better equipped to provide them; addresses underlying causes of problemfull array of services is available, services are credible and easily accessible, and confidentiality is maintainedAdequate funding for services is difficult to ensure; police involvement may deter juveniles from using services
13Implementing specialized patrolIncreases likelihood of detection for juveniles involved in criminal activity; may deter those wishing to exploit juveniles; provides opportunity to refer juveniles to services that can address underlying problempolice approach juveniles in non-threatening manner or allow social service workers to take the lead, runaways are easily identifiable and tend to cluster in certain locations, and sufficient resources are available to divert juveniles from juvenile justice involvementSpecialized patrols consume police manpower that could be used to address more serious threats to public safety; police involvement may deter juveniles from using services
14Providing safe locations for juvenilesRemoves juveniles from dangerous locations; encourages contact with services that can address underlying problemsprogram is well publicized and service staff respond immediatelyServices will reach only juveniles who actively seek help, and many runaways do not; must include follow-up services with families for meaningful change to occur
15Using secure placement when appropriateRemoves juveniles from dangerous locations or situationsthe placement is not within the juvenile justice system and stabilization is achieved quickly so juveniles can be released to long-term careSecure placements are expensive; overly broad use of secure confinement violates federal status offender deinstitutionalization mandates
When or If They Return
#ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
16Using transportation aides and free transportation servicesTransports juveniles home without consuming police resourcesservices are easily accessible to police and program staff respond promptlyWorkload is sporadic; recruiting volunteers can be difficult; process to secure free transportation can be cumbersome
17Referring to aftercare services as neededTransfers responsibility for juveniles and family services to an agency better equipped to provide them; addresses underlying causes of problempolice have range of referral options, multiple efforts are made to engage family in treatment, and both juveniles and parents have advocates working on their behalfParents who are not particularly concerned about their childrens absence are not likely to engage with services
18Interviewing juveniles upon returnGathers information that can be helpful when responding to subsequent runaway episodes; gives juveniles an opportunity to voice concernsinterviews are not conducted by police, interviewer takes time to establish rapport, juveniles are interviewed shortly after their return, and multiple interviewers are available so juveniles can select someone with whom they are comfortableJuveniles may not disclose relevant information; information revealed must be acted upon for process to remain credible
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
19Handling cases over the telephoneAssumes quality investigation can be accomplished without personal contactInformation may lack important details required for accurate risk assessment; suggests to parents that case is not being taken seriously
20Confining in secure detention facilitiesAssumes all runaways are a danger to themselves or public safetyMost juveniles are not a threat to themselves or others; secure detention bed space is limited and expensive; does not address underlying issues; can inflame family tensions
21Forcing juveniles to return homeAssumes reunification is safe and appropriate for all juveniles and that all parents will welcome their children homeReturning home may place the juveniles at further risk of harm; may increase the likelihood of subsequent runaway episodes
22Restricting privileges upon returnAssumes juveniles will obey new rulesPunitive responses can exacerbate the problem and trigger subsequent runaway episodes; may reinforce juveniles perception that parents or caretakers do not take concerns seriously; does not address underlying issues