Q: My neighbor’s teen daughter ran away from home and came to our house. I’ve called her parents and they are OK with her staying with us for a while – but what are my responsibilities? What should I be concerned about?
A: My mother’s warm heart led her to open our home twice in this way when I was young. As is frequently the case, these stays with our family were short-lived. It can be challenging to find the balance between compassion and societal concerns.
Love in truth and action. It is likely that you have become fond of your neighbor’s daughter over time and she obviously perceives your home as a safe haven. Scripture tells us, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:17-18) Your willingness to open your home shows a desire to act in a loving way. Now, you must determine the best way for your support to be expressed.
Caring for a runaway child. Laws regarding runaways vary by state and by the age of the child. How long a child can stay varies as well. In some states it is illegal to “harbor” a runaway child by providing shelter. Also, consider the well-being of your neighbor’s daughter. What if she breaks her arm? Will you be able to authorize her care in the emergency room? Do you need to have power-of-attorney? Seek advice from a lawyer or social services agency for help with these legal aspects.
Facilitating family interactions. The top priority is to reunite the family. Encourage them to reach out to one another. Is there a local Catholic Social Services whose goal is to reunite runaway youths with their families? Ask your pastor for a list of local psychologists. Sharing this type of information with your neighbors may help them as they try to communicate effectively with their teen.