Missing and Runaway Childrenby Waln Brown
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Between two and three million American children are missing or run away each year. Around three-quarters of a million are classified "missing children" and about two million are "runaways." The precise number of American children in these two categories is unknown. Some missing children turn out to be runaways and some runaways are missing children. Parents do not always report their runaway children.
Missing children are lost or victims of abduction. They tend to be younger than are runaways, usually under 14 years of age. Strangers kidnap less than 20% of these children. Family members, most often the non-custodial parent, abduct the majority of missing children. Separated or divorced parents who do not have legal custody may "steal" their own children. Children who are the victims of abduction, either by strangers or by family members, are likely to suffer emotional damage because of the experience.
Runaways usually leave home voluntarily and tend to be teenagers. There are many reasons why children run away from home. Most runaways feel misunderstood, unloved or angry with their parents. They find life at home unbearable and believe that living elsewhere will be better. Some runaways actually are "thrown out" of their homes. Parents of these "throw away" children often do not want the financial burden of childrearing or cannot handle difficult adolescent behaviors.
Families of missing and runaway children face many problems. Parents of missing children feel guilty or responsible for their child's abduction. They also can suffer from fear and anxiety about what may happen to their missing child. Parents of runaway children also may experience the same or similar concerns. Not knowing the whereabouts or condition of a child can create stress for all family members.
The problems faced by missing and runaway children and their families have received national attention, resulting in a network of programs and services. Police offer the primary service in the recovery of children. Parents or other family members should report ALL children believed missing or runaway IMMEDIATELY to police. Swift action is important to a child's safety and recovery.
Other programs and services also are available. Many businesses and organizations display pictures of missing children. "Hotlines" provide a means for runaway children to communicate with their families. "Safe houses" and shelters are available to runaways. Several programs provide free rides to runaways who wish to return home. The growing national concern about missing and runaway children mirrors the seriousness of the problem. Unfortunately, however, the number of missing and runaway children continues to rise.
PREVENTION is the best strategy for keeping children from the ranks of the missing and runaway. Understanding what to do to recover missing and runaway children also is essential. It is our hope that this information will provide a better understanding of the issues surrounding America's MISSING and RUNAWAY CHILDREN.
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