Editorial: Runaway revelations

I wonder how many of us realised the extent of the problem before last week. I know I didn't until I was told about it, admittedly a little before readers were, but I can imagine the general reaction was similar to mine; one of surprise.

Nearly every week, at least one child goes missing in South Canterbury. Some weeks, as Sergeant Geoff McCrostie told reporter Megan Miller, there are more. He can arrive at work to "two or three files" sitting on his desk relating to disappearances.

"The average person wouldn't have any idea that this goes on," Mr McCrostie told the Herald. That doesn't surprise me, it's the revelation of just what a big problem it is that does.

A look at the case study of five repeat teenage runaways, which the Herald ran on Friday - there's a fascinating interactive graphic at timaruherald.co.nz which is worth a look - shows just how much some kids are running away. A staggering stat on page 2 in that day's paper was that of the 15-year-old girl reported missing 149 times in less than seven years. That's more than 20 times a year, or nearly twice a month.

So why, when this is going on here in our small communities, are the revelations such a surprise?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, the majority of repeat runaways in South Canterbury are kids already in the care - for one reason or another - of Child, Youth and Family. In other words, they're living with caregivers. To some extent, then, many of them are kids who are already somewhat marginalised.

The danger of that scenario, though, is that it would be easy for those in the community - and that's most of us - who don't identify with such circumstances, to look at it as a problem affecting a small minority and nothing to do with us.

To do that, though, is to fail to recognise the real danger such kids are in. As CYF's local youth justice manager, Simon Coventry, so pointedly said: "It's really scary what might happen to these kids".

He also told us that these children are not just a CYF problem, they're a community problem. Which is a real challenge.

Plainly, what some of them need is some patient, positive input from adult role models. Which can range from caregivers - undoubtedly a calling, because looking after a difficult teenager can't be a picnic - to those prepared be involved in other ways; taking a youngster fishing, or golfing, or surfing, or whatever. To be a role model, a confidante.

There are probably a lot more of us who could do that.

The Timaru Herald