Staying at home has proven to be one of the safest measures to avoid falling victim to the coronavirus. For some teens, however, homes are not the safe spaces they need. There are a lot of teens who are vulnerable to abusive domestic situations, especially with the current situation. They have no choice but to run away from home to get the safety they need.
In the United States alone, 1.6 million to 2.8 million youth run away each year, according to California-based NGO Polly Klaas Foundation (PKF), citing data from the National Runaway Safeline. Children as young as 10-14 years old can start running away. Of this number, 47% cite conflict with their parents or guardian as the main reason for leaving, while 34% and 43% respectively report sexual and physical abuse before leaving their homes.
The National Conference of State Legislatures draws an even higher figure in a 2019 report, estimating that 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness each year. On any given night, an estimated 41,000 unaccompanied minors aged 13-25 experience homelessness.
Forced to fend for themselves, over 70% of runaway youth are in different kinds of danger. The COVID-19 pandemic makes the streets all the more dangerous for these runaways, who may face a more significant threat than the those they thought they left behind.
Stable Home Life
All over the world, households are slowly coming to terms with changing dynamics and increased interaction due to stay-at-home orders. When families are together under uncertain conditions, tensions are unavoidable. In the heat of an argument, parents or guardians may sometimes fail to fully grasp the weight of their words and kick their children out of the house, falsely thinking that the child will not push through with leaving or will always return.
As adults, parents and guardians should take the high road and keep an open mind. Teens are typically prone to making decisions based on their emotions. More than 70% of teen runaways admitted that their decision to run away was the result of a spur of the moment decision. It adds that many kids didn’t even bother to think that far ahead by packing a bag and preparing provisions.
During this uncertain time, it is more important than ever that communication channels remain open so that both sides can freely share their fears and anxieties. Parents and guardians play an essential role in laying the groundwork for a nurturing environment and a stable home life for their families.
Runaway teens also need to feel that their families are willing to take them back if they leave. According to research, over half of runaway youth who are staying at shelters or out in the streets reported that their parents told them to leave or knew they were going but did not care. It is up to adults to take the first step in creating enduring relationships that can outlive a heated argument and move towards healing.
Deepening The Crisis
Like many things, the COVID-19 crisis has brought to light the underbelly of the current social order. According to some youth shelters, the number of runaway youth cases may continue to increase as the ongoing health crisis forces victims to stay at home with their family members who may subject them to physical, emotional, and mental abuse.
Despite the growing dangers, it is important to note that fewer people might be willing to welcome runaway youth into their homes as part of an effort to minimize contact with outsiders. It limits the options of some runaway teens that turn to another household for shelter for a short time in a trend known as “couch surfing.”
For its part, youth shelters are bracing for the influx of homeless and at-risk youth. They are preparing to accommodate them and to offer virtual counselling sessions to support their mental well-being. Other youth shelters, food banks, church spaces, and community services are also working hard to shelter homeless youth in this pandemic.
The issue of runaway youth is more than just the problem of a single-family but should be a concern for society as a whole. Runaway children are victims of the deep fractures in our society that require institutional interventions from multiple fronts. Laws and policies should be in place to protect runaway teens, and it includes but is not limited to policies designed to offer education, transitional housing, health, counseling, and outreach services. It’s high time that the governing bodies intervene in this pressing problem among the youth today.
However, there is no denying the enduring impact of healthy home life and strong role models in preventing adverse parenting outcomes like a runaway child. Although the issue roots to a complex set of factors, a child running away boils down to a call for help that the basic unit of society should answer.