When life in with your teen isn’t tough enough they start a whole new range of activities! One that comes up a lot within our community is the young runners and leavers. These expert terrified toddlers are inexpert young adolescents and therefore attract a whole heap of troubles due to many factors.
Vulnerable, excited and with a very limited grasp on cause & effect our young people represent a high level of risk to themselves and others that often the professionals and authorities fail to grasp. As parents it can be incredibly hard to get the Police, Social Care and other services to recognise the level of risk posed and act quickly.
Often, our young people just have not developed enough genuine empathy and appear completely indifferent showing ingratitude for the good life choices their adoptive families have demonstrated to them. Their inner world (developed from their backgrounds in their birth families) means they read life as full of fear, guilt, shame, horror and negativity and cannot accept the loving care from their adoptive families and struggle with secondary attachments (teachers, foster carers, mentors, social workers, medics, support workers e.t.c) to a degree too.
Again, with all things adoption, there are teens who run away from home but the intensity, frequency, level and frankly the reasons why they are doing this are at a completely different level from your “average teen”. We would argue in POTATO group that there should be a specific protocol for professionals to follow. Primarily we are into encouraging and supporting adoptive parents and going through the night, wondering if your wayward teen has hooked up with the local druggies at the park or offered sexual services for a packet of fags to the peadophile is something many of us have not only lived through but struggled through repeatedly. That constant bombardment of threat is a serious thing for the strongest parent and so we have put together some tips for surviving it. Don’t become a MASHED POTATO!
In comfort to most, the running off seems to arrive and then go as quickly as it came. Something, somewhere clicks. Maybe its the young person simply maturing. It does not seem event driven so a really serious event like being hit by a car or assaulted may not stop the running. But eventually, it stops in most.
So IF your young person is running then what do you do? Can you get prepared before it even starts?
1) PLAN AHEAD.
If your teen is at home with you normally and you feel that they might be tempted to run, check out the possible safe places that they can run to. Someone like an aunt and uncle, a family friend with a lot of space and things to help out with. Plan ahead with them that your young teen could tip up at their home and cool off. You might think to pre-programme your phones with texts that explain where your teen is. You want to pick someone who is not going to present them with 20 questions and help them de-escalate.
For those parents of young people who are living in foster care, therapeutic communities, children’s homes and other state provision under section 20, you cannot do this preparation but instead have a think about when you want to be told that your teen is missing from their care. The first few times feel like a real emergency. But we would suggest you think about whether or not you want to be called at all hours of the night and instead set boundaried times for you to attempt some sleep. e.g. 10pm-7am. After many incidents you may feel its better to simply be told when the event is over.
S20 parents should make the unit aware that birth family may pose a risk- they often naively encourage communication via social media and phone not realising the potential risk, especially to an adopted teen who tends to run off!
Getting a grab sheet together of a recent photograph and other details like where your teen has been found in the past saves everyone a lot of time and hassle. You can do this if you have a S20 teen and often units have their own sheets too.
Contact details of their friends and log ins or at least usernames of their social media accounts are really good things to have to hand when the Police call.
2) WHEN YOUR TEEN RUNS.
Take a leaf out of the professionals book and do not chase your teen, as they will get excited and run further, faster and put themselves (and others) at greater risk. Note the time they were last seen and where. Most units have a protocol of following at a distance to keep them in sight if your teen is a homebird then you might need to make a judgement on that, it may be a better use of your time to contact your “safe places” and let them know what’s happening. Do contact your supports on line and get through the phone calls to the police, the emergency social services. When to call for help is a bit tricky. It depends on the age of the teen and the level of risk they pose to themselves or others.
Many parents would call 999 if their teen was known to be missing for more than 15 minutes, others after 2 hours. If it is after an altercation or simply they have not come home you need to follow the same pattern every time if possible.
If they have a phone with them, Text messages or calls too frequently may cause the teen to push away harder so think through how often you could text- maybe hourly? You want to be short and gentle “Hi, Mum here, Thinking of you Love xx”
Its also offering some gentle containment that every hour they will get a text and shows that you are mindful of them.
3) THE WAIT.
There’s is absolutely nothing you can do now except wait. Couples tend to find one person gets more distressed and its wise not to listen too much to their rants as they are often exaggerated and full of their worst fears. Instead comfort one another and allow the distressed party space to rant, take some fresh air and check out something lovely- sniffing the roses, making something, cleaning the house- whatever. When the other member of the couple has a distressed moment you need time to be comforted and have space too. If you are not with a partner use social media, ring friends and family to sit it out with you. Using Mindfulness, prayer and music can help you feel less uptight when you need to rest and conserve your energy.
If you have a mental health or physical health problem you may find that this is really heightened at this time of waiting and directly after an event, please do seek medical support for these things and put your needs first. Good self care is a key skill to demonstrate to our teens and really the only thing we can actually do. Make time for sleep. Eat (beans on toast is fine!) and take every offer of help for the laundry and other day to day tasks.
Remember that getting trapped in your teens “world” of chaos, fast paced and wild scares does you no good. Breathe, reflect, and wash out some of your own guilt and shame that WE were not able to fix them. Because we cant, we weren’t responsible for the damage and we are not responsible for the lack of fixing either!
Sleeping is a big problem for many at this time. Good sleep practices are advised and many have found guided imagery helpful.
4) THEY ARE BACK.
With a gobby, defiant and deeply shamed teen back in the home you may get a lot of rejection initially. We have found giving our teens a lot of NURTURE is key at the point of return, cookies, cakes, hot chocolate and milkshakes are good peace offerings. Give them a chance to sleep. You may feel a mixture of anger, relief and being overwhelmed. So act. Pretend. Just do it to get through. Then collapse in a heap and get some rest yourselves.
If they have college/school the following day you are going to have to make a judgement as to whether you send them in normal time, later or not at all. Many would keep an exhausted young teen off school but its a challenge to know whether its the “right message” to send them about facing the consequences of a day at school when they made the decision to run. So may be a better idea to let school/college know what has gone on and send them in.
On the return from school/college go for a walk or activity giving the teen a chance to talk through things. It’s a wise move as the pressure for closeness is removed and they have a chance to go through things with less shame making them shut down. Safety is your key consideration and letting them know you were thinking about them is great but careful thought needs to go into whether the teen would relish your pain and worrisome state. Teaching them to ring 999 to speak to the police might be something to share and reiterate the safe places to go to.
Book a massage, music gig, nail session, swimming, golfing range morning – whatever floats your boat and check out the local EMDR/ trauma therapist or life coach and what they can offer you. This is your priority, after which you can tackle the meetings and doing a write up of what happened and emailing to the authorities. Considerations around risk assessing with the support of CAMHS, Social Care and Police perhaps YOT and Education will need to come in the next few days. But PRIORITY- LOOK AFTER YOU Marking it in your diary makes you more likely to do it.
The teens we have are amazing survivors. They seem to come through hideous dangers and seem relatively unscathed because their early starts teflon-coated their inner being and its us, the parents, who do not fair so well. As a group most adoptive parents are poor at self care and empathise and put others first as a matter of course with a sense of social good and equal justice. Arguably it is why we struggle so much to learn the self care lessons. Many are finding a route to managing therapeutic reparenting and self care through mindfulness techniques.
Finally, when you get to the place where things are a little more stable, invest in some long term well being- physically get well. Nurture and look after yourselves. Physical fitness and eating well is a good start but also consider getting your mental health in shape.
Click here for The Good Mental Health Co-operative and their free guide.
With heartfelt thanks to the many POTATO group families that offered their insights and top tips for this article,
This is the intellectual property of the POTATO group 2014, redistribution for the benefit of our families permitted.