Throwaway Children

I ran away from home the first time when I was about 9 years old. Not the normal running away all children do where parents laugh and wave good-bye. When I was 9 years old, I ran away, finding shelter under the deck of a

Courtesy of

friends house for a night, freezing in the cold and damp; with the woods in back creaking and the wind whistling I planned my escape for the next day to the big city. At 9 years old, I had no true understanding of the world and its cruelty to children, but I understood what I was running from.

My father found me, shivering from the cold and frightened hours later; I have always hated the dark since then.

No one thought to ask me why. No one thought to hug me and tell me how glad they were I wasn’t hurt.

I was rebuked for the trouble I caused. Spanked and sent to my room for a week. My mother put on a show, she always did this, weeping and gnashing her teeth proclaiming in a loud voice (so I could hear) what a terrible and ungrateful child I was. Though I didn’t understand all she said, I silently agreed I was ungrateful. I liked being sent to my room, it was the one place in the house filled with what was mine; books to escape to, paper to fill with my thoughts (back then I wrote poetry and stories then tore them shreds) and art supplies. I never feared being alone, was never lonely in my solitude.

From the age of nine (9) forward I would evolve into a habitual runaway. It is a term the Juvenile System uses to designate those children who they are not able to keep in their homes or within the Foster system. Not all states recognize the term, some states simply name children like I was Delinquent, in fact 40 years ago when my evolution began all states were wont to call children like me Juvenile Delinquent, we haven’t come far since then only thirteen out of 50 US states have Habitual Runaway statutes.

The world was immense; I didn’t know it then and wouldn’t know it for a few more years. No one thought to warn me I might be hurt beyond the confines of the small streets of our neighborhood. No one considered the implications of my wanderlust. Did they know?

Venice Italy, 1965 Mom and Me

When I was a child, I was fearless, with an imagination fueled by the books I read and the places I had already seen. By the time I was nine years old I had toured ancient castles and monasteries with dungeons and torture chambers for wrongdoers. I had heard true stories of mad kings and stood in the very spots where queens had lost their heads and a saint had burned for heresy. I had seen the greatest art of man, climbed a leaning tower and fed pigeons in the square of St. Marks on Easter Sunday. All these and more stayed firmly in my soul, fired my heart and put wings to my feet. I knew the world was wide and waiting for me.

The narrow and unhappy confines of my home smothered me, caused my heart to crack and shatter though it would be years before I understood what I was feeling. Decades would pass before I would understand why I ran, that it was simply my fight or flight instinct kicking in. I didn’t have the means to fight so adrenalin and instinct caused me to run.

Run and run again. I practiced running away more times than I can count. I was finally successful two months after my fifteenth birthday. By the time I finally ran successfully I was a ward of the courts, in foster care. Even then, no person, no caseworker, no judge, no court psychologist (I saw a great number of them) ever asked why I ran. After a year the courts closed my case, I was emancipated in proxy; this means they couldn’t find me.

Today we have over one million runaway and throwaway children on the streets of our cities; they are at risk in so many ways most of us cannot even imagine. The world of the runaway child is dog-eat-dog, for most it is the strong feeding on the weak. Without outreach resources, beds in shelters or even food most of these children resort to petty theft, prostitution and panhandling.


Nearly all of these children will face hunger, sexual assault including rape, sexual exploitation, violence, drug addiction and disease including Aids; yet most of us will walk by them on the street and turn our faces away when they ask for a dollar; what are we thinking?

The story of why I ran and being a runaway is a story for a different day. The reality is, it wasn’t romantic or easy, it was horrifying and hard. Another reality though, it was a kinder world then than it is now though still cruel.


  1. Very thought-provoking Val! When I was 10, I wrecked my sister’s car. She had thought it was fun teaching me to drive. I guess I was cocky and went for a joy-ride one morning. I lost control on the dirt road. So I ran away. It lasted about 4 hours. By the time I got hungry, it didn’t seem to make much sense to run. So I went home and accepted my punishment. Luckily, I didn’t suffer by myself. Mom and Dad didn’t appreciate the fact that my sister had been letting me drive. Can’t wait to read the rest of the story.

    • So many children have had ‘runaway’ stories like this in their childhood. They are usually tied to a single incident, easily remedied. Thanks for sharing yours Grant.

      I don’t know that I will ever tell my whole story. Maybe someday.

  2. I started at the same age as you did, but mine was cognitive dissonance. I did have more players in the intermediate ranks to play middlemen who exhibited the proper discourse. Had it not been for them…there by the grace…

    More than anything, I am glad you tell the tale and advocate.

    • I am only beginning to tell the tale Red. Each time I open the door I fear getting kicked and kicked hard. Walking through the door to expose my history is frightening.

      • It always is, my darling. Those are the growing places where the skin was tender, and you never know how well you healed until you expose it.

  3. Val, hard way to come your credit, here you are. and to your point: “it was a kinder world then than it is now though still cruel” .it seems to me the masses have always been set against each other by the unseen hand of the privileged, while many of the privileged pretended to be concerned. it seems now that many of the privileged no longer even care to pretend – at least not the Republican privileged anyway. continue…

    • You are exactly right, most of the privileged no longer even pretend; thus kinder yesterday than today. At least back then there were some do-gooders fighting for dollars in the streets. Now? Slash and Burn seems to be the way of it.

  4. My son has done the pretend run away thing 2x. He goes to the top of the driveway/cul de sac and ducks down so we think he’s gone. I look out of the 2nd floor window and know he is just trying to guilt me for something silly…BUT….if he really ran away, I would hope to have the heart and mind to realize something was really wrong and try to figure it out with him.

    • Running away is usually a symptom of something else, a cry for help or attention. Sometimes it is because a child is so deeply unhappy in the home, often it a home and school, social surroundings. There is usually more than one thing. The real key though is open channels of communication. For me, back then if my father had simply asked “why” and then listened.

  5. When I grew up surrounded by wealth my family didn’t have, I thought I was poor. When I was punished for misbehaving, I thought I was abused.

    It was only later that I realized how privileged I have been (and still am).

    My heart goes out to all the children who need to run and to the parents who don’t understand that they need to ask why.

    Beautifully written, Val. Heartbreaking.

  6. Great post, Val! I was a rather frequent player in the runaway program for kids as well, usually heading to the “forests with the big, scary animals” (a small bush at the rear of the base we lived on at the time). My dad was a captain in the RCAF, a Hercules and Lancaster pilot, and had the entire MPP office chasing me down. They put me in “the brig” for a night, and that was the last time i ran away…

  7. Very powerful post. Sounds like there is a least one or two books in you. I would like to hear the rest of the story.

    • Patti – I think there are somethings I will never be comfortable with revealing. So I will watch the unfolding and my own comfort level. My apologies for the delay in my response, somehow you got caught in a filter.

  8. It never crossed my mind to run away when I was young. I had heard of other kids trying to but I couldn’t understand why. When my daughter was six, she packed some grocery bags with clothes and came down the stairs as if nothing was happening. I asked what she was up to. She said she was running away. Where would she go to? She didn’t know? It’s getting dark out; where will you sleep? In the backyard. Why not in your own bed? She didn’t know. WHY are you running away?
    “Because I don’t want you to get rid of me like you did daddy.”

    We had just divorced. I was heartbroken to hear her say that at such a young age. I was afraid to sleep that night once I’d convinced her to sleep in her own bed.

    Indeed, the most important question is WHY?

    Very important and thought provoking post!

    • You asked the most important question. You didn’t wave and laugh as she packed to sleep outside. You didn’t punish for her audacity, instead you simply asked Why.

      Now if our juvenile justice system would simply start asking the same question, rather than treating these lost children like criminals perhaps we could save them.

  9. Many of us were safer on the streets than in the place we should have been safest.

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