Running away can be a traumatizing experience for parents as well as for the fugitive child. The child becomes a vulnerable target as soon as he/she leaves the safety of family. His/her fantasy can quickly become a nightmare for him/her, because he/she is exposed to chance meetings, which can prove to be dangerous for him/her: alcohol, drug, crime, sexual exploitation, etc.

A child does not run away without reason. If no family conflict seems to justify the departure of the child, he/she might be having problems at school or facing violence of peers, same age kids or older than him/her or even adults beyond suspicion. Very often, the parents who are confronted with this situation feel guilty, run down or even paralyzed. It is of primary importance that the parents keep their cool and a rational spirit when they discover running away of their child. Not to panic and not to lose the sense of reality are what’s needed when taking action to bring the fugitive child back into the security of the family as quickly as possible.

What to do?

The first 48 hours of running away are crucial. You must immediately undertake a certain number of actions:

Ask his/her friends, his/her teacher, his/her classmates, your neighbors, other parents, etc anyone who could know something about the running away. Ask them to inform you without delay if he/she contacts them or if they learn something new about him/her.

Check his/her usual hiding places when they need to be alone. If you do not know the place, ask his friends who seems to be his best friend or his confidant to accompany you there.

Check the personal effects that he could have taken with him and draw up a list of clothing which he could_ve taken along and leave the list with the police. These could facilitate the search.

Provide the police with a good quality recent photo and check your camera as well. It could contain the necessary photo. Furnish the police with maximum information bout the child habits, places where he would usually go or his medical conditions needing immediate attention vital to his well being. Most run away children return home on their own within 48 hour.

Beyond this period, think of asking FREDI to publish a search warrant. To this end, use documents available on this site. You can also prepare small posters to be distributed in stores or publicly owned establishments, road or railway stations. You can find a template here later on.

When your child returns home

Do not reproaches or antagonize him. If you do, you are likely to cause new running away episode(s), perhaps even instantaneously.

Show her that you love her and make her understand that what happened has deeply affected you. Immediately inform the police and the organizations or the people who came to your help during these times.

If your child was absent for a long period, take her for a complete medical checkup, including a test concerning sexually transmitted diseases.

Above all, when she is back, try to get at the root of the problem which lead to the running away. Most times, it is family problems which cause the running away (divorce, remarriage, alcoholism, sexual abuse, etc). If you are not able to resolve these problems on your own, use services offered by specialists. Social services of your area are ready to help, but you can also call upon private organizations, the school personnel or even a priest (see the list of the organizations offering assistance below) It may be possible to temporary place your child in a foster home giving you the chance to work out the family problems in a more serene environment. Social services of your area can offer you the needed assistance.

If running away was not due to a family problem, do not overwhelm him with questions. Make him understand that he can rely on you and that he can share his thoughts and reasons when he feels ready to do so.

Which organizations can help you?

  • At cantonal level, the police can provide you with co-ordinates of these organizations:
  • centers with social workers
  • a special bureau for the young within the police force
  • a cantonal office for the minors
  • foster care service
  • private or school psychologists
  • center for consultations LAVI (Loi fédérale sur l’Aide aux Victimes d’Infractions translated as federal Law to help victims of infringements) in all Switzerland

If you feel confronted with an insurmountable or too difficult a problem to handle on your own, do not hesitate to call upon one of these specialists: They are trained to help you and your family. The whole process may appear long and complex, but perhaps your child’s running away was caused by years of silence and quiet suffering.

Original text can be found in English in This extract is used with explicit authorization of the author. The title is ” Just in case&Parental guidelines in case your child might someday be a runaway” Copyright l985,National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)

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