Tracking down a runaway child is never an easy task, but it can be downright impossible without the proper help.
People usually associate the term “missing child” with the equally heartbreaking and terrifying stories of child abduction that we see on the nightly news. But according to a study commissioned on the subject called the NISMART-2, kidnapping accounts for less than 1% of all missing children in the United States each year.
In reality, the overwhelming majority of missing children are runaways. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and The Research Triangle Institute estimate that every year, between 1.6 and 2.5 million youths will run away from home, according to the National Runaway Safeline (NRS).
What’s more, the NRS reports that runaways come from all socioeconomic areas and cultural backgrounds. And while the NISMART-2 study reported that over two-thirds of runaways were aged 15-17, children as young as 10 years old still run away in large numbers.
NRS reported that over 70% of runaways described leaving home as a spur-of-the-moment decision. Teenagers are not exactly known for their level heads and good planning, making it difficult to see the warning signs before they decide to take off.
A sudden departure is usually synonymous with a lack of preparation — young runaways will often leave home without adequate food, clothing, or money, making them especially vulnerable to harm.
Time Is of the Essence
This complex problem is made exponentially more difficult when you factor in the importance of time relative to the child’s well-being. Runaway youths don’t have the resources or experience to safely navigate the streets on their own, and are more likely to take desperate measures to survive.
“Survival sex,” or sex in exchange for food, clothing, and shelter, is common practice among homeless youth. In fact, the Polly Klaas Foundation estimates that many runaways, especially young girls, often engage in survival sex within 48 hours of leaving home.
This can quickly escalate into full-fledged prostitution, unprotected sex with multiple partners, sexually transmitted diseases, and dangerous pregnancies.
Young runaways are also more likely to engage in other high-risk behaviors, such as dealing and abusing drugs. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 40% of African-American runaways and 36% of Caucasian runaways have sold narcotics to survive.
All of these circumstances cumulatively lead to a greater risk of severe health problems, poor nutrition, depression, anxiety, and even suicide. It’s important to note that the longer a young person remains in this type of environment, the more difficult it becomes for them to return to a normal life. It’s therefore imperative that effective action is taken immediately.
What Can Be Done?
While contacting local and state law enforcement is a necessary first step when a child goes missing, it may not be the most effective one you can take. Police departments often lack the sufficient time and means required to conduct a thorough investigation, and too often runaways are not given high priority from the perspective of a missing persons investigation.
Additionally, facing literally millions of runaway cases each year, even national hotlines, databases, and welfare services are often stretched too thin to be of any real help.
Instead, more and more people are finding success by turning to private investigators for help. Licensed private investigation companies like Integrated Security Services have the time, the resources, and the years of experience required to track down missing children in a safe and timely manner.
Our executive staff, made up of retired law enforcement professionals, can function as both advocate and liaison with the police, cutting through procedural red tape and identifying specific areas within their jurisdiction known for human trafficking, prostitution, and the like.