On “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” episode titled “No Boys Allowed”, Kylie (the daughter of Bruce & Kris Jenner) becomes upset because Bruce will not allow her to hang out with her “boy” friends alone. Bruce tells Kylie her male friends are not allowed into her room under any circumstances. Kylie defies Bruce and takes a boy to her room to order a pizza. Bruce yells at Kylie for taking a boy to her room and immediately orders all of her friends to leave the house. Embarrassed, Kylie decides to run away. Kylie hires a car service to take her to Khloe’s (her older half-sister’s) house. Eventually Kylie is returned home to her parents, Kris and Bruce. However, most cases involving runaway children are more serious.

Kylie is not the first child to run away from home and won’t be the last. The U.S. Department of Justice reports an estimated 797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a study conducted over the span of one year.  The study also showed an alarming statistic – an average of 2,185 children are reported missing each day. According to the National Runaway Safeline, between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year.

According to Ehow.com, “[c]hild runaway laws vary state by state but most states do not consider it illegal for minors to run away from home.” “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” is filmed in California, and thus California and thus it is helpful to to an analysis of California law. In California it is not considered a crime for a juvenile (any person under the age of 18) to runaway from home. However, Ehow tells us the following states consider it a status offense when a juvenile runs away from home: 1) Georgia; 2) Idaho; 3) Kentucky; 4) Nebraska; 5) South Carolina; 6) Texas; 7) Utah; 8) West Virginia; 9) Wyoming. Conversely, under Canadian law, when a child runs away from home it is not considered a crime.

It is not a crime for a juvenile to run away from home in California.  The state  has adopted the Interstate Compact on Juveniles, which states juveniles who are believed to have run away from home can be detained and returned to the custody of a: 1) parent, 2) guardian, or 3) the court. Below are the applicable provisions of California law from the California Welfare and Institutions Codes.

Section 601.

(a) Any person under the age of 18 years who persistently or habitually refuses to obey the reasonable and proper orders or directions of his or her parents, guardian, or custodian, or who is beyond the control of that person, or who is under the age of 18 years when he or she violated any ordinance of any city or county of this state establishing a curfew based solely on age is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court which may adjudge the minor to be a ward of the court.

Section 601.5.

(d) A minor may be referred to a Youth Referral Center by a parent or guardian, a law enforcement officer, a probation officer, a child welfare agency, or a school, or a minor may self-refer. A minor may be referred to the program if the minor is at least 10 years of age and is believed by the referring source to be at risk of justice system involvement due to chronic disobedience to parents, curfew violations, repeat truancy, incidents of running away from home, experimentation with drugs or alcohol, or other serious behavior problems. Whenever a minor is referred to the program, the Youth Referral Center shall make an initial determination as to whether the minor is engaged in a pattern of at-risk behavior likely to result in future justice system involvement, and, if satisfied that the minor is significantly at risk, the center shall initiate a family assessment. The family assessment shall identify the minor’s behavioral problem, the family’s circumstances and relationship to the problem, and the needs of the minor or the family in relation to the behavioral problem. The assessment shall be performed using a risk and needs assessment instrument, based on national models of successful youth risk and needs assessment instruments and utilizing objective assessment criteria, as appropriate for the clientele served by the program. At a minimum, the assessment shall include information drawn from interviews with the minor and with the parents or other adults having custody of the minor, and it shall include information on the minor’s probation, school, health, and mental health status to the extent such information may be available and accessible.

Section 625.

A peace officer may, without a warrant, take into temporary custody a minor:

(a) Who is under the age of 18 years when such officer has reasonable cause for believing that such minor is a person described in Section 601 or 602, or

(b) Who is a ward of the juvenile court or concerning whom an order has been made under Section 636 or 702, when such officer has reasonable cause for believing that person has violated an order of the juvenile court or has escaped from any commitment ordered by the juvenile court, or

(c) Who is under the age of 18 years and who is found in any street or public place suffering from any sickness or injury which requires care, medical treatment, hospitalization, or other remedial care.

In any case where a minor is taken into temporary custody on the ground that there is reasonable cause for believing that such minor is a person described in Section 601 or 602, or that he has violated an order of the juvenile court or escaped from any commitment ordered by the juvenile court, the officer shall advise such minor that anything he says can be used against him and shall advise him of his constitutional rights, including his right to remain silent, his right to have counsel present during any interrogation, and his right to have counsel appointed if he is unable to afford counsel.

Section 625.1.

Any minor who is taken into temporary custody pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 625, when the peace officer has reasonable cause for believing the minor is a person described in Section 602, or pursuant to subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 625, may be requested to submit to voluntary chemical testing of his or her urine for the purpose of determining the presence of alcohol or illegal drugs. The peace officer shall inform the minor that the chemical test is voluntary. The results of this test may be considered by the court in determining the disposition of the minor pursuant to Section 706 or 777. Unless otherwise provided by law, the results of such a test shall not be the basis of a petition filed by the prosecuting attorney to declare the minor a person described in Section 602, nor shall it be the basis for such a finding by a court pursuant to Section 702.

Ehow provides a general overview of child runaway laws in other states.

In most areas, child runaways can legally be returned to their homes by law enforcement at any time and against the child’s wishes. In states where it is illegal to run away, children may be punished with probation or may just be returned home. Even in states where it is not illegal for minors to run away, a child who repeatedly attempts to run away may end up in court. That can result in punishment such as a fine, a mandatory drug screening, and suspended drivers license. In many states, adults who help a child run away by offering assistance or shelter can be convicted of harboring a runaway, which is a misdemeanor.

When a child runs away from home multiple times, they may be considered a “habitual runaway”. LiveStrong.com explains habitual runaways:

If a minor continues to run away frequently, the child can be labeled as a habitual runaway. With this the courts may order that the child is in need of supervision. This is ordered because the court has determined that the parents are not capable of taking care of the child. The child in need of supervision process is used in 34 states, according to the American Bar Association. With this program the child may be required to take mandatory drug testing, can possibly receive fines and punishments, and at times have their driving privileges suspended.

Parents may be liable for the acts their children commit when they run away. However some states have enacted laws which limit the liability of the parents for the actions of their runaway children. The chief analyst for the OLR Research Report, Saul Spigel, noted the problems with limiting  liability which may be placed on the parent’s of runaway children. Saul suggests a solution to state legislatures – “make parents liable for damages their children cause only if a court finds that they (the parents) failed to exercise reasonable supervision.” However, Saul states this approach “would create an extra judicial step and potentially reduce victim’s compensation.”

Enotes describes the less stringent application of parental responsibility laws:

Although some states impose criminal liability on parents of delinquent youth, many more have enacted less stringent types of parental responsibility laws. Kansas, Michigan, and Texas require parents to attend the hearings of children adjudicated delinquent or face contempt charges. Legislation in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia requires parents to pay the court costs associated with these proceedings. Other states impose financial responsibility on parents for the costs incurred by the state when youth are processed through the juvenile justice system. Florida, Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia require parents to reimburse the state for the costs associated with the care, support, detention, or treatment of their children while under the supervision of state agencies. Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, and Oklahoma require parents to undertake restitution payments.

Parents are not the only individuals who may find themselves in trouble with the law. Other individuals who associate with runaways could possibly face legal problems as well. Landlords who harbor runaways and people who room with runaways may also be in violation of the law. To read more click here.