In Your Corner: Special laws for the under 18 folks

If you are 17 or younger and live on Kaua’i, you have some laws to follow that will no longer apply once you are 18. These laws are called “Status Offenses”, because when your status changes to being an adult, which the law establish as 18, you don’t have to follow them any more.

The first is Truancy. Laws in Hawai‘i are called Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, and they begin with HRS. HRS 302A-1132, Hawai‘i’s Compulsory School Attendance Law, states: “Unless excluded from school or excepted from attendance, all children who will have arrived at the age of at least six years, and who will not have arrived at the age eighteen years, by January 1 of any school year, shall attend either a public or private school for, and during, the school year, and any parent, guardian, or other person having the responsibility for, or care of, a child whose attendance at school is obligatory shall send the child to either public or private school.

Dropouts rarely fare as well as their counterparts who stay in school. CBS did a report on dropouts two years ago and found out that “Dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs like food stamps. High school dropouts earn about $10,000 less a year than workers with diplomas. That’s $300 billion in lost earnings every year. They’re more likely to be unemployed: 15 percent are out of work versus a national average of 9.4 percent. They also are more likely to be incarcerated. Almost 60 percent of federal inmates are high school dropouts.” http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18563_162-6528227.html.

People need to know how to think, research, compare, contrast, make good decisions, get along with people, take care of their bodies, and discover their individual gifts and skills. That’s why it’s a law to stay in school. And notice that those who are responsible for the care of the minors are required to send them to school. If a child misses more than 20 days of school, the adult responsible can be charged with educational neglect.

The second status offense is runaway, HRS 571-0011. It basically states that until you are 18, you are expected to be cared for and under the supervision of an adult. If you run away, you become “beyond the control of the child’s parent or other custodian,” and you can be detained.

Children are to be cared for by adults because they are more experienced with making good decisions. The part of a human brain that makes decisions isn’t fully developed until about 22 or 23. Adults know a little more about cause and effect. Sadly, some people are untrustworthy, and abuse runaway children. It’s a terrible experience to not know where your child is or if she is safe. The Hawai‘i State Attorney’s office has a website for parents of runaways at www.hawai‘i.gov/ag/mcch/main/publications/justincaserunaway.

The first few hours that a child goes missing are the most important. It is most helpful to call all your child’s friends, family, and any place you think the child might be. Were there any clues in what they said? There is some clash of wills going on, and it is much better to work things out before they heat up to a runaway incident.

If conflicts are increasing in a family, then you need a plan. Can an auntie, uncle, tutu or close trusted family friend help care for the teen until things can be resolved? A school guidance counselor is a good place to start getting help. Now that school is about out, in Waimea there is Nana’s House. Someone may not be there to answer the phone, but you can leave a message, and they can help with counseling. The number is 338-0252. In Kapa’a is Hale Ho’omalu at 821-2520. They don’t have a counselor on staff, but can help you find one.

I just read of a case where a mother gave her son $50 a week to stay away from home. He was 15. Then she claimed that he was a runaway. Parents/guardians need to know that they are responsible for their children until they are 18, unless they go through an emancipation process. Otherwise, they can be cited for criminal neglect of a minor.

United Way sponsors a care line. It’s 211. There is also the Parent Line at 1-800-816-1222. I just called both of them, and you speak directly with a person. They’ll talk to you to find out more about the problem, and then offer you some solutions, depending upon your needs.

Here’s an aside to girls who might be considering staying out with the boy-friends. A few years ago when Teen Court handled status offenses, we found that most of the girls who got busted for runaway because they wanted to be with the boyfriend, were no longer with that boyfriend by the time their case got heard. Is that worth a police record or putting a strain on your family relations? Your family will be your family for the rest of your life.

I made a mistake one time of keeping a friend of my son’s overnight in North Carolina. I figured he was safe, and would have a good couple of meals, but it is against the law to harbor a minor. What you can do is call and tell the parent that the child is with you, and have a conversation about what would be best for the child.

The last status offense is curfew, which I wrote about a few months ago. This is a Kaua’i County law. The curfew for the county of Kauai is: Sunday-Thurs. 10 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday night, it’s midnight, unless you are with a responsible adult as determined by the Kaua’i Police Department.

Have a safe and enjoyable summer.

• The ‘In Your Corner’ team comprises the leadership of the island’s government, court, police, education, family and social services communities. Contact Annaleah Atkinson with your questions at aatkinson@haleopio.org.

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