Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Running Away

A nine year old boy, with a history of running away, finally decided to put some real distance between himself and the neighborhood that he disliked - he hopped a plane from Sea-Tac [Seattle-Tacoma] International Airport to San Antonio, Texas by way of Phoenix. The story was picked up by the Associated Press, and different versions are currently in the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

It seems that the child's normal MO up until this point was to steal cars and try to drive - presumably to Texas, where his grandfather lives. On Sunday, he'd stolen a car parked outside of a neighbors and fled the police until he blew the engine. When caught:

"He refused to come out of the car, so officers broke a window to unlock a door and immediately recognized him as a frequent runaway and car thief, [Lakewood police Lt. David B.] Gutto said."

The story relates two other instances in which the child had stolen cars in the past month. The P-I reports that his mother and another person had called Child Protective Services, but he wasn't put in a placement. And even though the mother had requested that he not be returned to the home, Pierce County's juvenile detention center refused to admit him.

Having worked in a residential treatment center myself for a few years, I'm not a fan of just plucking children out of the home. But the mother was clearly unable to keep the boy safe and at home, and was asking for help. He's in custody NOW, having been arrested at the airport in San Antonio, while trying to get on a plane to Dallas. But even though charges have been filed, the Lakewood Police Department wants to treat this as a missing juvenile, rather than an extradition.

This seems like a case that cried out for some sort of intervention. Just because you want something, or feel that you need something, that doesn't entitle you to do whatever you think you have to do to get it - especially when that extends to stealing and putting other people in danger. Children who don't understand this don't magically become adults who do understand it. It's easy to blame the mother for all of this, and say that this all happened because she's a bad parent. But she realized that she was in over her head, and asked for aid from the authorities (even if you find fault with how she went about it), who couldn't or wouldn't intervene.

This is the kind of case that comes back to haunt us later, and it's important that we understand that. It's really a "pay me now or pay me later" situation. We expend the resources now to get this child under control, or we run a very high risk of winding up with an out of control adult on our hands.

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