Runaways in summer

Katarzyna Woynarowska

10,000 children have already run away this year. More young people run away in summer. It is worth asking, not only because we still have vacations, why they run away when we care for them, bring them up, educate them and love them. Why does it happen?
Runaways are always lonely, which psychologists and policemen dealing with difficult youth confirm. They say that children run away because their parents avoid sincere conversations with them, they are not interested in trivial problems of their kids, and because children laboriously try to create their own family world.
The Itaka Foundation, for the Assistance to Those Affected by the Problem of Missing Persons, has a programme called 'Do not run away!' directed to teenagers who consider escapes and directed to parents. The people working in the Itaka Foundation try to answer the question: why do children run away? They explain that it most frequently happens that 'when a teenager feels anger towards his parents when he notices that his/her needs are neglected, and his loneliness (in spite of the physical presence of his/her family) becomes unbearable. Then the child thinks of running away and believes that only an escape can make him free. He does not know that when he runs away he gets to know fear, hopelessness, hunger and cold. Runaways are those who have no support in their environment and cannot ask for help or have nobody to help them. Children do not run away only from problem families. They often run away from decent parents, who are quiet, just, who work a lot. Parents wonder that it is their children that run away. 'But they had everything they wanted.' Their escape becomes a call 'please notice me!' Children run away from both overprotective and too rigorous parents, to avoid requirements they cannot meet.' Messages from web forums, 'My mother and grandmother keep me on the lead. I must not do anything; anything I do is wrong. I have enough of it!!! My father scarpered, now I am going to do the same. They will never find me.' 'As far as I can remember vodka has always been at home. I have no strength. My father beats my mother, takes our money, yesterday he hit my brother with his fist. I have no friends, am the worst pupil at school. Who should I talk to? My brother will go abroad next year. Then my father will have it in for me. I do not know what to do. Nobody wants to help me. I will run away, for good. And nobody will search me anyway.'

Phone call - the first step to return

Chief Commissioner Joanna Lazar explains that children who run away do not often realise what suffering they cause to their closest family and they are not aware of the dangers they can face. What can happen when they run away in summer? Firstly, various kinds of perverts, mainly paedophiles, wait for runaways. Girls are objects of brutal sexual attacks, many a time rapes. People from Western European brothels travel all around the country recruiting girls and taking them abroad. Secondly, people recruiting members to sects and drug dealers regularly visit railway stations and other dangerous places. They give lines for free and when runaways get addicted they force them to be dealers. Those who recruit members to sects use different ways but the effect is similar - they take children away from their families. Other messages from internet forums, 'I am running away. I am fed up with people picking on me. Nobody notices me. Total neglect. Glass wall. Yesterday my father spoke to mum about diving in Egypt. Last year he took me to Crete. Nicely, isn't it? He hardly spoke to me; he only drank beer with his colleagues. I am not going to be taken in again. I am doing a runner from here. I am fed up with adults' hypocrisy and life for show. I do not want to live this way.'
'I have lived in England since winter. My parents work all the time, come home and go to bed. I have nobody to talk to. I keep crying. I do not like my school; I have no colleagues. My life will be wasted here. What am I to do? People! Tell me how to run away to Poland?!' People working in the Itaka Foundation add that there are many reasons to run away and there are various ways of running away. And we do not only mean running away from home. Various situations and emotions make teenagers feel isolated from their closest family and friends - they run away into the Internet, computer games, dreams and even learning... Chief Commissioner Lazar thinks that the younger a child is the worse it is for him. Older kids can be clever and younger ones are credulous. The age of runaways is lower every year, now we have 13-15 year old runaways. They run away because they fear their parents' reaction to their poor grades or they want to avoid reprimands. Parents' reactions to their children's returns are very important. The best thing is to wait and return to the subject later on. One should not avoid psychological help. 'Sometimes escapes change children in such a way they we hardly recognise them', Mrs Lazar explains.

Do not only panic

What should one do when it is evident that a child has run away? Of course, we should inform the police at once. We try to get as much information about child's last days at home as possible. We should search child's things, call his/her friends and acquaintances. Lots of photos will be needed, the police will demand them, and they will use them. You should phone hospitals, foundations that help difficult youth, social care centres. Do your best to ask the local media to help you. Above all these will be advertisements you must pay for and the media will ask you to show them some certificates from the police. You can also contact the TV programme "Whoever saw, whoever knows' - phone number 022 851 1035. The police register the event in their national data base with a photo of the missing child, search the place where the child was seen last, ask people, use their own informational channels, and finally the police will inform the public opinion about the missing child like it was in the case of Magdalena Czechowska from Kielce. But most often the police find missing teenagers during their regular actions in high-risk places, e.g. railway stations in big cities, desolate buildings, districts characterised by many criminal actions, tent fields in known summer resorts. Messages from the forum, 'Everybody goes somewhere and I must stay at home since my parents want to finish this stupid house. They are not going to keep me in all summer. No way. I have made plans with my friends. We will visit clubs in Warsaw and then we will see. Mother and father will not even notice my absence. For them the most important thing is the colour of the tiles on the terrace.' 'My stepfather beat me yesterday because I answered him back. It was the second time this week. He beats me for anything. I fear him. Mother has shouted at me and told me to listen to her because he gives me food and place to live in. She beats me, so she is right. They always get drunk. Both of them. I am ashamed to speak about my bruises since my mother is an activist and all people respect her. So I am running away. I will not stand it any longer.'

On the brink

Runaways are not only victims but they also commit crimes. They become members of youngsters' gangs, they steal, rob, become receivers and deal with drugs. It is worth remembering that in Poland it is illegal to possess any drugs. Juvenile offenders do not go unpunished as their depraved peers try to persuade them. Young people must appear in court, which will decide about their future. Even the most protective parents cannot do anything and children will suffer legal consequences.
These matters can drag on for years. Information about the trial and the event remains in the documents, and then it will be read by many authorised people, e.g. at school. If another, even the slightest, offence occurs it is known that the rascal violates norms.
Tomasz Janek, father of three, who has worked as schoolteacher for 25 years, says, 'I am not surprised by the wave of summer runaways. Since the contemporary world does not know authorities, except the praiseworthy example of John Paul II. What should we base upbringing on if we undermine our faith in everything? And by the way, I will tell you a story: in our school there was a meeting with specialists in drug addiction, runaways, early sexual initiation. The meeting was in a form of open discussion, some kind of experiment with the presence of kids and their parents. 10 parents and over 80 pupils turned up. Do we need any comments? More messages from the forums: 'People, do not run away!!! I am 21 and have run away many times. It is terrible, bad, and horrible. You will get the boot and you will not pull yourself together for several yours. There are drugs, alcohol and perverts. If perverts did not catch you the skinheads would do so; they clean the homeland from people like you. Baseball bats, knuckles, axes, burning...Filth, stench and fear. You will be dragged into the mess at once. And then you will need a lot of time to get out of it.

"Niedziela" 36/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: