In Your Corner

Editor’s note: This is another in a series of columns about youth welfare on the island.

“In Your Corner” is a phrase that means support.

Its origin comes from boxing.

In between rounds, the boxer retires to his corner, and a group of people coach him, give him medical help, water, and cheer him on.

Several adults have “stepped into the corner” for teens on the island, to answer questions and give support in the boxing ring of life. They are K.C. Lum, Kaua‘i Police Department chief; Catherine Stovall, community response specialist, County of Kaua‘i; Edmund Acoba, public defender; Craig De Costa, county prosecuting attorney; and Annaleah Atkinson, Teen Court manager for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i.

This week’s article is addressing the status offense of runaway, and is an answer to a teen’s question. Teen Court gets its referrals of first-time juvenile offenders from the KPD.

Then, Teen Court writes a letter to the parent of the child, explaining what Teen Court is, and asking if they would like to participate in the program. They need to call back by a certain date.

Atkinson mailed such a letter to the family of a girl who had committed the offense of runaway. She called the Teen Court office and asked, “Why was I mailed this letter? I didn’t run away. I came home all by myself.” In simplest terms: a child under the age of 18 can be detained for runaway, if he/she leaves the home without permission, or doesn’t have permission to stay out beyond a certain time.

In Hawai‘i, parents are expected to know where their children are, and to keep them safe. Children are expected to let their parents know where they are, and to return when the parents say to return.

There is a good reason for that.

While most of the people in the state are caring, kind people, who would even go out of their way to help a child, there are child predators who would harm children.

Many times a predator presents himself or herself in a friendly way to a child. Since the child has known kindness and been with trustworthy adults, he or she may become a victim of a hurtful act.

Accidents can happen. Children don’t stop to think that if they tell their parents they will be home by midnight, and aren’t home by 1 a.m., the parent is going to think that perhaps they were in an accident, or a victim of a terrible event.

They call the police to help them find their child.

The police network with each other, and put out a BOLO (Be On the Look Out) call for the child. They investigate where the parent thinks the child might be.

The best-case scenario is that the child returns to the home on his or her own in a short amount of time. However, that child still committed the offense of runaway, being away from the home without permission. The child will be detained for runaway.

The In Your Corner adults invite Kaua‘i youth to think about the consequences of such a choice.

Parent or guardians who care for the child have to decide, “Do I get help finding my child even if he or she could have a record?” The stress of worrying about a child’s safety is hard on the parent.

Wouldn’t youths want their parents to care enough to find them if they were lost, overdue or in trouble? What if the young one was the one in that accident, and finding him or her quickly meant the difference between living or dying? What if the young one got into a situation over his or her head, and needed help getting out of it? Wouldn’t he or she want someone to help find him or her? Some youth run away because home situations are so hurtful to the child and they don’t know what to do.

A good solution might be to find a safe adult who understands confidentiality (not talking to anyone else about a subject) and ask for help.

High-school counselors, church pastors, or even sports coaches are good resources.

Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Inc. provides emergency housing for youth on the island. The number is 245-2873. Children can also call 911.

Domestic abuse is against the law. It means causing pain or physical injury to a person you are living with.

Sometimes teens run away to be with their boyfriends or girlfriends.

Those youngsters or young adults who pressure their sweethearts to run away might end up getting them busted for runaway because of that.

Having a record could then prevent them from receiving a scholarship, or even getting a good job. Employers check.

Is it fair to put such pressure on someone who loves you to break the law? It doesn’t sound loving to some adults.

Those getting pressured to run away should tell their partners they don’t want to break the law, and want to keep the trust and honor of their family members.

In the Teen Court questionnaires, teens often write that they are very sorry for running away, and that they are sad that their family members don’t trust them any more. It’s easier not to make a mistake than to fix one that’s been made.

• Questions for this column may be e-mailed to Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org, or sent through the U.S. Postal Service to her at Annaleah Atkinson, 2959 ‘Umi St., Lihu‘e, HI 96766. She will forward them to the one who can most appropriately answer them. There is also a toll-free Teen Hotline, 1-877-521-8336.

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