On the Run

When I a teenager, I used to baby-sit for an adorable and adventurous little boy named Clay. He was one of those children who, from day one, pushed the limits. He was fearless and stubborn and eager to try new things, many of which weren’t terribly safe. To say that Clay kept me on my toes as a caregiver is an extreme understatement. I had to watch him like a hawk.

I took great consolation from the fact that his parents felt the same way: exhausted. When he was 4, Clay ran away from home. I don’t remember the details of what precipitated his departure, but I do remember that his parents were beside themselves with worry. Two hours after they noticed he was missing, they found him walking alongside a road in their neighborhood, approximately two miles from their house. He had taken the family’s German Shepard with him for company, and he had a hammer. For protection, he told his parents.

This is the kind of “runaway” experience many of us have ever experienced. The cute kind. The kind that makes a touching story 20 years later. But real runaways stories aren’t cute and they aren’t touching. They’re scary and sad and all-too-often tragic.

Robin Whitsell’s article on page 89 of this issue takes a look at the harsh realities of life on the streets for young runaways right here in the Triangle. Those of us who thought runaways were a “big city” problem, she says, were wrong, and several community organizations are stretched to the limit trying to provide services to hundreds of struggling kids — living proof of our collective naiveté.

It is estimated that between 1.6 and 2.8 million young people run away every year. According to the National Runaway Switchboard, in 2006, nearly 2,500 calls were received from families and young people in North Carolina. It’s a safe bet that some of those calls were made in the Triangle.

I urge you to take a few minutes to read “Runaways in the Triangle,” paying particular attention to the steps parents can take to prevent children from taking the drastic and dangerous step of running away. Because today’s kids need more than a kindly dog and a hammer to keep them safe. More than anything, they need love and guidance and support from their parents.