In Your Corner: Runaways and ‘Safe Homes’

Recently I spoke with a mother who informed me that she would look after and feed children who had run away, or been kicked out of the house by their parents. While I admire her generosity and big-heartedness, technically she is breaking a law, as is the parent who kicks out the child. There may be a way for her to help, if she chooses.

First time runaway offenders between the ages of 10 and 17 are referred to Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i, Teen Court. I read the police reports. Although sometimes the children leave because the parents kicked them out, most often the kids run away to be with their friends.

When the children don’t show up at their curfew or come home after school, the parents are terribly worried. We’ve all read stories of innocent children trusting others to help them, and end up being either physically or emotionally abused, or both. Sometimes the money and few belongings they take with them are stolen.

There is a law to protect our youth from this. Thanks to Public Defender Edmund Acoba for providing the following state statute: Hawai‘i Revised Statute 707-727 states:

 “(1) A person commits the offense of custodial interference in the second degree if:

        (a) The person intentionally or knowingly takes, entices, conceals, or detains a minor knowing that the person has no right to do so;  or

        (b) The person intentionally or knowingly takes, entices, conceals, or detains from lawful custody any incompetent person, or other person entrusted by authority of law to the custody of another person or an institution.”

It also is a misdemeanor, unless the child is taken out of the state. Then it becomes a felony.

In Hawai‘i, the state law acknowledges that parents, or legal guardians are responsible for their children, and need to know where they are.

It is negligent behavior and against the law to send a child entrusted to their care away without making provisions for their food, shelter, clothing, education, and other necessary care as determined by law (HRS 709-903).

To leave home without permission or stay out without permission is running away. So the parents have the difficult choices of calling the police knowing that it will give their child a record, or not calling the police and risking that they could be harmed, or develop a pattern of running away from their problems.

When parents contact the Kaua‘i Police Department, a BOLO (be on the look out) is issued to help find their children.

Children don’t stop to think of how they are affecting the community at large with their choices.

In case after case the child is truly sorry for putting family, friends and the community through the stress that their running away caused. Parents sometimes go through horrible fear, and if they have had a fight with their child, terrible guilt.

Tolly Boyd, LCSW of Hale ‘Opio, has a solution she would like to offer to address the latter circumstances of when things heat up at home and threaten to get out of control.

She calls them “safe homes.” While therapists focus on creating harmonious, working relationships among family members, the reality is that trust and respect may take time to develop.

A safe home is in the home of family or friends, which both the parents and child agree upon, to use if things heat up. A safe home can provide the time, space, and safety that the teen needs away from his or her parents until emotions subside, and the family gets clear about their needs and can speak about them respectfully to each other. The designated family member or friend must agree that they are willing to participate in the plan, and how the use of the safe home would be initiated.

If the well-meaning auntie above would like to continue to help our youth, Ms. Boyd would suggest that when a child comes to her, she contact the family and ask permission for the child to stay with her.

She should ask what rules they want their child to follow and when he or she should be sent home. Perhaps she would be willing to have the “safe home” for that child.

The State of Hawai‘i purchases the services of Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i’s Emergency Shelter Program, for runaway youth referred by the state agencies.

“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 our teens, to answer questions and give support in the boxing ring of life. They are Community Response Specialist Catherine Stovall, Public Defender Edmund Acoba, Prosecuting Attorney Craig DeCosta, Kaua‘i Police Department Officer Paul Applegate, Superintendent of Schools Daniel Hamada, Director of the Department of Education Mokihana program Jill Yoshimatsu and Teen Court Manager for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Annaleah Atkinson.

If you have something to share with Kaua‘i Teens, or need to ask a question, contact Annaleah with the information below. She will field it to find the person who can best help with the answer.

If abuse has occurred, it should be reported to the Child Abuse Intake line at 1-800-494-3991. This line also assists with cases of neglect.

• Annaleah Atkinson is the Teen Court manager for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i. She can be reached at aatkinson@haleopio.org, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu‘e, HI 96766.

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