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Are You Helping Out an Unhappy Kid, or Harboring a Runaway?

A young girl walking away from the camera with a backpack on her back, signifying a teen runaway.
Wanting to help a troubled teen is admirable, but it can get you into trouble yourself if that teen is a runaway!

If you have kids then you already know – they get upset sometimes and make impulsive decisions. Anger after a fight with mom or dad can lead to emotional melt-downs, bad choices, lots of drama and destructive behaviors. And sometimes that means running away from home. According to TroubledTeenHelp.com, one in seven kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away at some point. But what happens then? Do they usually come home by themselves? Do they get caught and forcibly returned to their parent’s care by the cops? Or are they lost and gone forever?

Runaways are vulnerable to many types of abuse.

According to the National Runaway Safeline, between 1.6 to 2.8 million youth runaway each year in the United States. That’s a lot of kids! And statistically, many of them are fleeing home situations where they are being physically or sexually abused, their parents are involved in criminal activity or are battling substance abuse, or they have witnessed domestic violence directed at a parent. In many cases, they are fleeing for their safety, and don’t realize how dangerous it can be living on the streets as a vulnerable minor. So it makes perfect sense that when one of your kid’s friends runs away from home, you would want to step in and help them.

Trying to help a runaway may get you into serious trouble!

This is where it gets tricky! Allowing a minor who has run away from home to stay in your house without alerting the police and their parents, is illegal. You could be charged with Harboring a Runaway (also called Aiding and Abetting), or Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor. In most cases these won’t be felony charges, but they are considered to be very serious misdemeanors and could result in several months of jail time and substantial fines.

When is a runaway old enough to not count as a child in Michigan?

If your child’s 14 or 15-year-old friend has run away from home and they’re hoping to stay in your home for a while, you absolutely can’t let them stay there without alerting the police or contacting their parents. But what about a 17-year-old? Surely a 17-year-old is old enough to leave home without needing to get their parent’s permission in Michigan? After all, Michigan prosecutes 17-year-old defendants as adults all the time. And yet it doesn’t work that way…

Michigan law isn’t straightforward when it comes to a minor’s age.

Michigan laws treats 17-year-old runaways not as an “adult,” not as a “juvenile” and not as a “child”. So what does that mean for you? It means that while state law says a person is considered an adult for the purposes of criminal law at age 17, the age of majority in Michigan is 18. That means anyone under the age of 18 is legally a minor, and their parents have the right to determine where they live. So until a child is 18, they would be considered a runaway if they left home without their parent’s permission and didn’t return. Which also means you’d be guilty of a crime if you gave them sanctuary without telling the cops. The only exception to that rule is if that child has been legally emancipated.

If you’re not sure, you should talk it over with a reputable lawyer.

We understand wanting to help. Especially if this kid is the friend of your own children, or comes from a home where they don’t feel safe. But you can’t help anyone from a jail cell, including your own kids. So if you know of a child who needs help, who’s been a victim of abuse, or simply doesn’t want to live at home anymore, we recommend that you get the right help. If you don’t think calling the cops is the right choice, call us at 866 766 5245. Our experienced and understanding criminal defense attorneys can provide guidance, explain the consequences of your decisions, and help you make informed choices for your future.

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