Children's Home of Northern Kentucky

My Story: Why Locking Up Youth Who Run Away Doesn’t Work

November 23, 2016

My name is Lauren* and I’m 17 years old. I’m a ward of the state in Kenton County, Kentucky. A year ago was the first time I caught a “status charge” for being a runaway and my judge sent me straight to jail, labeling me a “juvenile offender.” There, I learned new things I never should have learned and picked up new habits I shouldn’t have. When I got out of detention, I got into more trouble and ran away again.

I think the first time I ran away, they threw me in jail because they thought I was defiant.  When I did it again and again, I guess they realized that there must have been something deeper within me and my circumstances, so the Court gave me chances and opportunities that no one else had before.

I ran for many reasons: I ran to be free, to be me. I felt like I had to run away so that I could be myself because I felt as though no one would accept me as I am. In jail I felt as though they looked at me as an object, not a person. I hated that feeling. That’s the feeling I was running from and honestly I was running from myself. I figured that out later than I should have, but feel beyond grateful that I was helped to become “well” instead of branded as “bad.”

I didn’t think there was anyone out there to help me or be there for me, but then instead of detention, the Court sent me to residential treatment and let me get the help I needed. 

For the first time in a long time, I felt like people cared and wanted to help me. In treatment, I learned that my anger and depression were a lot deeper than I thought and I lacked a lot of impulse control. I learned to cope with those things and figured out new coping skills that could replace those negative ones I already had. I know if I hadn’t had the chance to get treatment, I would be doing the same things today as I was back then.

I know if I hadn’t had the chance to get treatment, I would be doing the same things today as I was back then.

I was charged for being a runaway one final time. Again I was given the opportunity to go into treatment.  Now I live in an independent living facility. I also attend outpatient therapy to help further my success and have been sober for one month. Every day is a challenge and I am very grateful for the people I have in my life right now who are helping me and for my judge giving me the chances she has given me.

I’m finally getting good grades and am about to graduate early. I feel successful within myself since I’ve had opportunities for treatment. I now believe I can build a future on the positive things I’ve learned. I hope to be a real estate agent and an inspirational speaker and help other people to never live the life I have.

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Lauren receives treatment with the Champions Services program at the Children's Home of Northern Kentucky. The Champions Program began as a preventative service for youth identified as at risk of committing a status offense and has expanded with the needs of the community in the provision of substance use treatment and behavioral health with a focus on family involvement and trauma-informed approaches. 

*Given the sensitive nature of this blog post, we are not using Lauren's full last name.