In most cases, parents are responsible for caring for their child under the child turns 18 years old or is emancipated, even if the child is not living at home.
In most states, you can say a runaway teenager as a missing person and ask the police to help look for the child.
If you are the child’s parent, depending on what state you live in, you may or may not have the right to force your child to return home with you.
In almost every state, a police officer may detain (hold) any child under the age of 18 whom the officer suspects has run away from home. Depending on the state, the officer may take the child to a homeless shelter, try to return the child to the child’s parents, or, in some states, even take the child to a secure facility, such as a juvenile detention center. A police officer may also detain a child suspected of committing crimes like loitering or violating a city’s curfew law.
If you are the parent of a child who has run away, you should contact the local police. You may also want to contact a local attorney to determine your legal rights and responsibilities and how to best proceed.
If you are allowing a runaway child to stay in your home or considering doing so, you should contact a local attorney.
You can find one in your area at
Many states have laws against “harboring” runaway children. Although these laws are not often enforced, assisting a runaway teenager may result in criminal charges for harboring a runaway or contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In other states, the runaway child’s parents can sue another person in civil court for harboring a runaway.
In some states, the following may be illegal or may result in civil liability:
If you are allowing a runaway child to stay with you, you may or may not be able to enroll the child in school or authorize medical treatment on the child’s behalf. If you plan to allow a child to live with you on a long-term basis, you may want to consider a guardianship, explained above.
In most states (but not all), it is not a crime to run away from home. In many countries, running away repeatedly may cause a child to come under the control of juvenile or family court. The court can then provide services, such as counseling, to the child and the family. Courts can also place restrictions on the child, including curfews and drug testing.
Living on the street is not a good idea. Few teenagers who live on the street continue school or find legal and safe employment. Many homeless teens abuse drugs and alcohol, suffer from psychiatric and medical problems, are victims of violent crime, have legal problems, and even attempt suicide.