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Teen runaways?

2011

Where can I learn more information about adopted teens who run away a lot?
 
Specifically, I am interested in discovering ways to hopefully understand how a formerly abused 16 year old girl (adopted at age 12) finds her way. This is a vague question, I know, but I am struggling with a direction for this intensely complex, multi-layered situation.  Any suggestions welcomed!
 
Much appreciated,
Laura
..

Hi Laura,
 
Young people absconding from care services is a challenge that has been around for as long as the care services themselves, and I don't think that anyone has found a definitive solution. However there are a few things you should consider;
 
1) Child's cultural background. In some African countries communities raise children not families, so children can feel perfectly safe wandering around in a way that is not normal (or safe) in other cultural contexts. Therefore holding on to an African child in an Irish care home (for example) can be a real challenge.
 
2) Background history. Similar to point 1, if a child has never had to live by limitations and has essentially raised him/herself, it can be incredibly difficult for that child to cope with the structure and routine of a family, so every time there is a challenge the kid just leaves. The key with these kids (in my view) is to take things very slowly, keep rules to a reasonable minimum and put all the energy into building relationships that make the kid want to stay. This requires a lot of maturity on the part of the adults and willingness not to engage in power struggles.
 
3) Following on from point two, I always view unauthorised absences by asking two questions. Is there anything that the child is running away from? And is there anything that the child is running away to? If you can find a way to reduce or eliminate the things she is running from and find a way to facilitate her to get the things (within reason) that she is running to, you have cracked it. Remember, at the end of the day positive relationships are the key.
 
John Byrne
Ireland
...
 
Hi Laura
 
I would be more than willing to offer some support if I can. Please feel free to connect with me if you'd like.
 
Sincerely,
 
Loretta A. Cella
...
 
People help her. Not all of them predators. Some misguided adults or ones who remember their own problems as teens, and lots of other teens. She's probably found strangers to be safer than people she knows, so the fear that you would expect to be there isn't.
 
Sheri McGuinn
...
 
Some reading around the subject of runaways ... Eds.
 
http://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0403-stand-up.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/today2006/today060712.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/features/ft-ouryoungrunaways.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/quote2/quote-562.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/occasional/occasional-080409a.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cyconline-mar2009-kufeldt.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/featuresx/feature-100412.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/quote2/quote-296.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/quote2/quote-489.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/quote/quote-54.html
http://www.cyc-net.org/quote/quote-54.html

...

I'd agree with the fella who replied from Ireland, this young woman runs to get her needs met and she struggles in relationships. Go slow with her, keep expectations down but not so low she doesn't think you care.
 
In what capacity are you working with her? What is her relationship with her adoptive family? Does she know her birth family? Often times the child welfare system will terminate parental rights or transfer custody of a child away from their birth parents but this by no means severs that relationship.

The system says, "Okay here is your Forever Family!" That is so BS. As soon as that child begins to act out their trauma and attachment reactivity some of our best and well-intentioned families can't handle the child at best. At worst they seek out the return service at their local psych ward. Adoption is not a solution, it is a band aid, and unless families are supported to raise these kids, and the hurt that was put into them has to come out for that person to fully become. Running sometimes is running from pain or running to pain because that is what they expect or think they deserve.
 
Many youth, indeed most, will return to form some sort of relationship with their birth parent, and depending on if what her history is with her parents/parent she may be doing that now. Thinking developmentally running away is what 16 year-olds do, they fly the nest, they begin to stretch their wings. Can she be supported to seek out the people she is running to in a way that is positive or at least contained by the setting of caring people you work with? Squashing her ability to run may be a short term fix for whatever setting you relate to her in but it does little to help her develop wisdom and experience to make decisions for herself. I find it much more supportive to partner with the youth and be a support to them in their search for getting their needs met. When we don't lose our minds about the running and are more interested in making sure she is safe ("call when you get somewhere safe so I know") takes the rebelliousness out of it, sometimes. We as caring adults need to check ourselves to determine if we are afraid of things that are intangible to our youth, such as guidelines of zero tolerance for running. My experience tells me that when we try to crush rebelliousness in teens who have trauma and damaged attachment histories we more often are serving our liability responsibilities, which one may have to do, WHILE you also leave the door open for the youth to seek you out for that healing relationship. Sometimes taking a systems perspective ("if you continue to run, this family, this center, may not be able to serve you, but I will; call me when you are safe or call this person whom I trust.") I'd say lastly, that these youth need someone who is available 24 hours a day. But they need a coordinated team approach too.  
 
Kids who run in some ways are taking the decisions of running their lives in their own hands. Our systems at times can't tolerate that. That's where you have to leverage your power and work outside the system or refer them to the agency or person who can. Self determination is part of independence.  They have to drive their own boat, not the caring adults in their lives. We as parents have to let go of the outcomes and invest in trusting and fostering reflective decision making...
 
Lastly from a mystical perspective and this may seem tough, but I believe sometimes that we don't get to dictate how long human life lasts or what it should look like. We all have to run our own journey. Sometimes all we can only be are points of caring consistency and a grounding moment in their lives. Sometimes we have to let our youth go and lead their own lives. Sometimes they return and sometimes they don't and at least they can begin to experience making their own decisions... that is life, in all its beauty and tragedy. 
 
Peter DeLong
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