ST. JOSEPH, Missouri — The recent death of a 14-year-old boy whose body was found in a burned building in the north side of St. Joseph, Missouri, has turned attention to the issue of runaways in the community.
The St. Joseph Police Department still is investigating that case, which reportedly involved a runaway child. While officers were unwilling to discuss details of that case, they do say runaways are common, with statistics showing that one in seven teens will run away in his or her life.
“They’re probably some of our most at-risk juveniles,” said Jason Strong, a family crimes detective. “We worry about ... a potential for them to be human trafficked. There’s tons of potential for bad things to happen to those children.”
So when faced with a child runaway, what should a parent do?
Strong said parents whose children run away should contact authorities immediately, and a national profile will be made on the endangered child within two hours.
“I would advocate for the FBI Child ID app,” Strong said. “Essentially it’s going to have the information that we’re going to need from a parent if their child is to go missing, and it would include a photograph that they could automatically send that to the communication center in case their child is missing.”
Often, a runaway can be returned home quickly, but as the number of instances of running away rises, so does the difficulty in finding the child.
“Habitual runaways become a very difficult task to deal with,” Strong said. “They obviously don’t want to be found. Oftentimes, their parents have no idea where they’re at, and that makes it even more difficult on us because oftentimes family members and parents are the best source of information that we have of where that juvenile might be. So every time they get caught and then they run away again, it just makes it that much more difficult.”
One way to deal with habitual runaways is to seek outside help through the juvenile office. Linda Meyer, chief juvenile officer of Buchanan County, said juvenile officers will be assigned to runaway cases to help assess the issue and connect the family with counseling.
“The number one thing is cooperation, collaboration with the juvenile officer,” Meyer said.
Meyer said that as long as the juvenile has only been classified as a runaway and has not been delinquent, he or she will not be detained but will be connected with services to help him or her attain a stable home life. She added that support from the runaway’s family is important for such help to be successful.