What Classifies a Runaway As Endangered?

Runaways often lack resources to be independent, placing them at risk for endangerment.
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The United States' National Criminal Justice Reference Service lists 17 classifications of juvenile runaway endangerments. These characteristics were derived from the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Runaway, Abducted and Thrownaway Children conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The characteristics are intended to help law enforcement officials and concerned custodians determine the nature of a missing child episode to assist in finding the child.

Abuse in the Home

Children who were found to be sexually or physically abused in their homes within the year before running away are considered at risk for harm. Their fleeing may be sudden, in pursuit of safety without money or a plan for adequate shelter. Further, their likelihood of returning home is slim due to fear.

Drug Use

Minors who use "hard" drugs or are otherwise substance-dependent are considered endangered, as they are likely to gravitate towards dangerous environments. "Hard" drugs are highly addictive mind-altering substances such as cocaine and heroin.


Children who were 13 years old or younger upon running away are deemed to be at considerable risk for harm due to size, innocence and lack of resources.


A child's environment before running away is a prime indicator of endangerment. A minor that spent time in areas of criminal activity, missed five days of school since running away or went missing for 30 days in a previous incident are all considered to be endangered based on environmental factors. This may be based on the assumption that children return to places of social acceptance.

Criminal Activity

Runaways involved in criminal activity while missing are at risk for harm. A specific crime that is classified as an endangerment indicator is prostitution. Children who exchange sex for money, food, drugs or shelter are considered to be at considerable risk for exploitation.


The company of the child before running away is used to classify runaway endangerment. Persons who abuse drugs, are known as violent or are sexually exploitative like a prostitute or a pimp endanger the welfare of minors who leave home.

Mental Health

Runaways with diagnosed mental or developmental disabilities are considered endangered due to lack of needed care. A specific and separate mental health classification of endangerment is a prior episode of a suicide attempt. Disabled children may specifically require prescription medications they are unlikely to receive without supervision.


Children who are either physically or sexually assaulted or are victims of attempted assault after running away are considered to be at risk for further harm.

Physical Health

Runaways who have documented debilitating or life-threatening medical conditions are at risk of endangerment. Leaving home without authorization or supervision often separates these youngsters from necessary medications, medical devices and/or supportive clinical care.

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