Unfortunately, thousands of children run away from home each year. Some flee because they are rebellious and don’t want to follow rules. Others leave to escape abuse or neglect. Many take off to avoid crisis or conflict, such as drug addiction, an unplanned pregnancy, or being bullied at school.
Regardless of the reason, running away from home is rarely the answer. Not only is it dangerous, but it can lead to criminal consequences for the runaway child – and for those who take them in or help them.
Is it illegal to run away from home in Texas?
In Texas, running away from home is considered a “status offense.” A status offense occurs when a juvenile engages in conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, such as drinking, smoking, skipping school, and running away from home. If a juvenile court finds that a child has committed a status offense, it can place the youth on varying levels of probation but cannot sentence the offender to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, or juvenile prison.
Can I get in trouble for harboring a runaway child in Texas?
Taking in a runaway child without permission from the child’s parent or legal guarding is known as “harboring a runaway” and it’s illegal. Under Texas Penal Code 25.06, a person commits an offense if he knowingly harbors, or hides, a child and he is criminally negligent about whether the child:
- is younger than 18 years old;
- has escaped from the custody of a peace officer, a probation officer, the Texas Youth Council, or a detention facility for children; or
- voluntarily left home without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian for a substantial length of time or without the intent to return.
What is the punishment for harboring a runaway?
Harboring a runaway child is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine, or both. Class A offenses are the most serious misdemeanor classifications in Texas.
Are there any defenses for harboring a runaway child in Texas?
Yes. It’s important to point out that there are defenses for harboring a runaway. An individual would not be in violation of the law if they:
- were related to the child “within the second degree by consanguinity or affinity” as defined by Chapter 573, Government Code; or
- if you inform the child’s legal custodian or a law enforcement agency of the child’s location within 24 hours.
Can you legally leave home at 17 years old in Texas without parental permission?
In Texas, parents and guardians are legally responsible for their children until age 18 – unless emancipation has been granted. If a parent reports their 17-year-old child as a runaway and the teen is subsequently identified by a peace officer, law enforcement can return them home until age 18. Under the law, police must immediately enter a child into the National Crime Information Center if they receive a report that a child is missing or has escaped from custody.
Can you recommend resources for runaways?
If you are a juvenile who has run away from home or is contemplating this action, we urge you to contact a professional who can assist with crisis intervention. The following resources can help:
- Texas Youth and Runaway Hotline 1-800-989-6884
- National Runaway Safeline 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929)
- National Safe Place Text the word “safe” and your current location to 4HELP (44357)
What should I do if I’m facing charges of harboring a runaway?
Even if you had good intentions, harboring a runaway is a serious offense in Texas. If you are facing charges of harboring a runaway, you will need an experienced defense attorney by your side. We can help.
Call for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will:
- Discuss the facts of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the direct and collateral consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply to your plan and in general terms discuss our approach to your case.
Call: (817) 203-2220
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Also published on Medium.