Juvenile Justice

Runaway and Abandoned Teens on a Rough Legal Road

As the economy nosedived and a number of struggling states sharply cut their social services budgets, the number of juveniles running away from troubled homes has soared.

The number of juveniles living on their own rose by 40 percent last year, reports the New York Times in a magazine-length article. Some are as young as 12 years old.

Many are not even reported missing, and, if they are, authorities may not make any major effort to find them. Meanwhile, to make it on their own without attracting too much attention from police, juveniles have to walk a fine line between the relatively petty crime that may be necessary to survive while avoiding major trouble including the threat of being victimized by others, the newspaper recounts. Although the authorities, in theory, can help juveniles, many fear being sent home to their families.

While their situation may elicit some sympathy, it also points to broader issues that are not being addressed.

“As a society, we can pay a dollar to deal with these kids when they first run away, or 20 times that in a matter of years when they become the adult homeless or incarcerated population,” Barbara Duffield tells the Times. She serves as policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

Related coverage:

CNN: “Detained immigrant children face legal maze in US”

Houston Chronicle: “Undocumented youths without guardians get free help from top law firms”

London Times: “Family courts crisis means long waits for vulnerable children”

Updated at 3:55 p.m. to link to related London Times article.

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