The Buchanan County Juvenile Bureau has received 600 child runaway referrals since 2019, including 148 in 2021.
Contributing factors can range from issues with home or school life to substance abuse, so it’s important to establish a line of communication with children at an early age, said Buchanan County Juvenile Officer Linda Meyer. .
“That open line of communication starts as soon as a child is very young,” she said. “You have to establish those lines of communication, make sure your child is open with you; you need to be open with them. It’s very important to set boundaries so they know what your expectations are.
It can be difficult trying to impose boundaries on a child after they’ve grown up without caring, especially since every child reacts differently, Meyer said.
Sometimes the communication a child needs isn’t with their parents or family, but with a professional, Meyer said.
“It’s important for the child to know that there are people outside the home environment who are trustworthy people,” she said. “Maybe it’s your counselor, maybe it’s your school resource officer. It’s important for a parent or guardian to let their child know that it’s okay to talk to these people if a situation arises.
The odds of finding a runaway child drop dramatically once they’ve been gone for at least 24 hours, Meyer said.
One of the most important aspects of communication is parents’ ability to keep tabs on children’s visits with friends, she said.
“Parents often don’t know which address their child attends,” she said. “They don’t know the full names of their child’s friends. They don’t have exact contact details, and again, it comes down to that parenting. Know who your child associates with, make sure you know where your child is.
Many parents rely on cell phones and specific apps to find out where their kids are, but that doesn’t work if the mobile devices are turned off, lost or broken, Meyer said.