August 2005
Volume 1, Number 4
Table of Contents

Is it Against the Law to Run Away from Home?
By Kara A Nyquist

In most jurisdictions it is not a crime to runaway from home, except in 9 states ( Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming). In these jurisdictions it is considered a “status offense”, which means it is against the law only when someone under 18 years old does it.

However, in jurisdictions in which it is not against the law to runaway away a youth may still end up in court. Youth that repeatedly run away may be classified as a habitual runaway in need of states if the state determines that their parents are not meeting the youth’s basic needs. The court process has different names in different states, but it is commonly called a “Child in Need of Supervision” (CHINS) process. Runaway youth are considered CHINS in 34 states. Although the CHINS process can provide services to youth and families, it can also result in punishments, such as fines, suspended driving privileges, and mandatory drug screening.

Almost every state allows police or other law enforcement officers to take runaway youth into custody without a court order and without the youth’s permission. Five states explicitly allow police to hold runaway youth in secure detention facilities ( Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, South Carolina). Additional states also allow this practice, although it is not written into their laws. Thirty-six states explicitly authorize police to return runaway youth directly to their homes without considering the youth’s wishes.

Kara A Nyquist is the Director of Advocacy Covenant House Alaska


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