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
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
Agency-Level Responses
1 Appointing a local runaway coordinator Fortifies interagency connections, ensures action plans are implemented the coordinator has contacts at each agency and specific expertise in runaway issues Building relationships and establishing credibility takes time; may not reflect current staffing priorities
2 Collaborating with social service agencies Attends to immediate safety issues as well as more complex issues underlying runaway behavior social service agencies take responsibility for negotiating the return of juveniles and agency confidentiality policies are compatible Crafting 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
3 Developing joint protocols with foster care providers and group homes Classifies 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 used If 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
4 Cross-training staff from multiple agencies Increases quality of interaction with runaways and families; encourages mutual respect for differing agency objectives and mandates the training curriculum is jointly developed by representatives from agencies involved Training is not effective as a stand-alone strategy
5 Sharing information Improves ability to serve juveniles and families appropriately agencies balance need for information with respect for confidentiality Staff 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
6 Assessing risk Classifies juveniles according to risk of harm and deploys limited police resources accordingly police obtain interagency agreement on the types of cases to which resources will be dedicated and responding officers are trained in risk assessment procedures Juveniles 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
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
7 Providing prevention materials when responding to calls for service Offers assistance to families who are at risk of a runaway episode a sufficient array of resources is available to support parents and juveniles Family engagement with services is not guaranteed; information does not reach families in need who do not come in contact with police
8 Using respite care Gives family members a break from each other so immediate crisis can be resolved without a runaway episode professional counselors help family develop coping strategies to avert future crises and there is political support for placement alternatives to juvenile hall Respite care must have 24-hour availability; family reunification is not always safe or desirable
When They Run
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
9 Using Missing From Care forms Improves quality of police investigation by highlighting relevant facts the form is promptly submitted to correct police department representative Staff time spent completing may be unnecessary if juveniles return shortly after departure
10 Determining whether absences are voluntary or involuntary Ensures time-sensitive responses to abduction are implemented when necessary police are well-trained in investigating missing persons reports and parents or staff are able to provide sufficient information about juveniles disappearances If absences are misclassified, may fail to protect juveniles and may create liability issues
11 Diverting cases to a community-based organization Transfers responsibility for family services to an agency better equipped to provide them; addresses underlying causes of problem program staff are available 24 hours a day, services are free, and program staff handle all processing and paperwork Staffing 24-hour programs can be difficult and expensive
While They Are Absent From Home or Care
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
12 Referring juveniles to appropriate social service providers Transfers responsibility for juveniles and family services to an agency better equipped to provide them; addresses underlying causes of problem full array of services is available, services are credible and easily accessible, and confidentiality is maintained Adequate funding for services is difficult to ensure; police involvement may deter juveniles from using services
13 Implementing specialized patrol Increases 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 problem police 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 involvement Specialized patrols consume police manpower that could be used to address more serious threats to public safety; police involvement may deter juveniles from using services
14 Providing safe locations for juveniles Removes juveniles from dangerous locations; encourages contact with services that can address underlying problems program is well publicized and service staff respond immediately Services 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
15 Using secure placement when appropriate Removes juveniles from dangerous locations or situations the placement is not within the juvenile justice system and stabilization is achieved quickly so juveniles can be released to long-term care Secure placements are expensive; overly broad use of secure confinement violates federal status offender deinstitutionalization mandates
When or If They Return
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
16 Using transportation aides and free transportation services Transports juveniles home without consuming police resources services are easily accessible to police and program staff respond promptly Workload is sporadic; recruiting volunteers can be difficult; process to secure free transportation can be cumbersome
17 Referring to aftercare services as needed Transfers responsibility for juveniles and family services to an agency better equipped to provide them; addresses underlying causes of problem police have range of referral options, multiple efforts are made to engage family in treatment, and both juveniles and parents have advocates working on their behalf Parents who are not particularly concerned about their childrens absence are not likely to engage with services
18 Interviewing juveniles upon return Gathers information that can be helpful when responding to subsequent runaway episodes; gives juveniles an opportunity to voice concerns interviews 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 comfortable Juveniles may not disclose relevant information; information revealed must be acted upon for process to remain credible
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
19 Handling cases over the telephone Assumes quality investigation can be accomplished without personal contact Information may lack important details required for accurate risk assessment; suggests to parents that case is not being taken seriously
20 Confining in secure detention facilities Assumes all runaways are a danger to themselves or public safety Most 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
21 Forcing juveniles to return home Assumes reunification is safe and appropriate for all juveniles and that all parents will welcome their children home   Returning home may place the juveniles at further risk of harm; may increase the likelihood of subsequent runaway episodes
22 Restricting privileges upon return Assumes juveniles will obey new rules   Punitive 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