Little runaways, who tend to be newly independent infant and primary school-children, usually head for the fields behind the house or to a friend's house, and they generally make it home by suppertime or bedtime. In fact, you may miss what is a dramatic occasion for them, and think they're just visiting one of their friends.
An older runaway presents a more serious problem. You, the parents, may have little or no warning, especially if communication has become difficult during the turbulent teenage years. Watch for signs of discontent: loss of interest in schoolwork, withdrawal, depression and unexplained bursts of anger. And pay special attention to your teenager when there is a major change in the family: death, remarriage, impending divorce, discovery of sexual abuse or a move to another town. Runaways are often accompanied by a friend who has no serious intention of staying away but has gone along for the thrills.
How well do you know your teenager? Do you know her closest friend(s)? Are her friends welcome in the house? Do you spend time with your child, talking to her about issues that affect her- boyfriends, premarital sex, drugs, school? If you feel that there may be a problem communicating with your child, look for help before a crisis arises. Talk to someone you can trust (a family friend, counsellor, doctor or vicar, perhaps).
Nowadays, there are real dangers for children who run away. Report a missing child to the police as soon as you can, providing them with photographs and a description of what she is likely to be wearing. Ring her friends; ask them to tell her to call home if they know where she is.
A number of nationwide organisations maintain hot lines offering help; through them parents and children can exchange messages and arrange transport home. Among them are Childline and The Children's Society.