The coronavirus pandemic has been very tough on everyone. It has been especially hard on families. Most people are afraid of getting sick. Many people are afraid to leave home. The constant parade of coronavirus news, almost all of which is bad, adds to this fear. As if these things weren’t enough, distance learning has become the new normal in many households. Homeschooling is extremely challenging, to say the least.
The stress and anxiety over COVID-19 is not just emotional. The unemployment rate increased 500 percent in 2020. This rate has dropped considerably in the last few months. But it is still about twice as high as it was in 2019. Economies do not recover from shocks like this one overnight. Coronavirus-related financial stress will probably be with us for quite some time.
Since the end of 2020, the Clarksville Times has reported about a half-dozen cases of runaway teens and preteens in Montgomery and Robertson County. The uptick in runaways is probably not coincidental. The aforementioned coronavirus stress probably has much to do with this spike. For some families, especially emotional children, it’s just too much. Generally, these tales have happy endings. Alas, other times, that’s not the case.
At Fizer Bonding Company, we do more than provide fast jail release and answer your questions about the criminal justice process. We also strive to give families the resources they need to avoid legal problems in the first place. Hopefully, this post will do all three of these things.
Can Children Go to Jail for Running Away?
No and yes. Running away from home is not a criminal offense, no matter how young the child is. So, if police detain runaways, they cannot take them to jail. Typically, law enforcement officers notify the parents, take these children home, or refer them to homeless shelters.
Now for the “yes.” Runaway children often encounter legal problems, mostly because they associate with the wrong people. If a child is even loosely affiliated with a street gang, most states, including Tennessee, have broad laws which could trigger an arrest. The same thing applies in general criminal conspiracies. Runaways will often gladly serve as robbery/drug sale/car theft etc… lookouts for a few dollars. Legally, the lookout is just as guilty as the guy who broke into the store.
Additionally, many runaways attend gatherings where illegal activity occurs. If someone at a party is drinking, everyone at the party will probably be arrested for MIP (minor in possession). These charges might not hold up in court, but officers have probable cause to make an arrest.
If your child was arrested for a nonviolent offense, you may not need a bail bondsman near you. Officers usually release children to their parents. If your child was arrested for a violent offense, even if s/he was on the edge of a conspiracy, you will probably need the services of a Fizer Bonding Company bondsman (Clarksville, TN bond company). Felonies almost always require a bail bond or cash bail.
Can Parents Go to Jail if Their Children Run Away?
Once again, the answer is no and yes. Running away is usually a personal choice. In this context, parents are not legally responsible for their children’s choices.
But not so fast. Sometimes, children run away to escape dangerous situations. Tennessee law outlines four major kinds of abuse:
- Sexual: Penetration and fondling are only part of the picture. Sexual abuse also includes indecent exposure or having sex in front of a child, at least in most cases. Producing child pornography, which would be asking a child to pose, is also sexual abuse. The failure to try and stop abuse is also abuse.
- Emotional: Everyone says things they regret. Sometimes these incidents constitute abuse, but not usually. Repeatedly telling a child that s/he is “worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another’s needs” is almost always abusive. Once again, failing to do anything to stop such abuse could also be abusive.
- Physical: There is a lot of gray area here. Parents have a right, nay a duty, to reasonably discipline their children. This discipline usually includes physical discipline. What is “reasonable” under the circumstances is a matter of interpretation. Old School can be “spare the rod, spoil the child” and New School could be “go sit on the time out chair”. Lots of gray area here.
- Neglect: Many children do not take regular baths, do not eat regularly, or do not wear clean clothes. Things like these could indicate neglect, but mostly not. Instead, the listed examples are “abandonment, lack of supervision, lack of adequate nutrition that places the child below the normal growth curve, lack of shelter, lack of medical or dental that results in health-threatening conditions, and the inability to meet basic clothing needs of a child.”
Coronavirus has increased the potential for abuse and neglect. Some may take out their frustrations on their children and resources could be too low to provide the normal routines that account for the care of basic needs. Maybe money is so low that regular trips to the laundry mat are fewer or just buying laundry detergent is a challenge. Or maybe the person who regularly does the laundry is no longer in the home. We are in tough economic times…this could be another gray area given today’s pandemic climate.
As a practical matter, if police detain runaways, they usually ask them why they left home. If they say anything which indicates abuse or neglect, the police will knock on the parent’s door next. And, the visit will not be a social call.
Juvenile Court Procedures
This section will be short. All parents really need to know about juvenile court proceedings is that the judge usually wants to keep your family together. However, the judge also wants everyone to be safe.
Therefore, expect some judicial scrutiny. A social worker will probably visit frequently. Your children might even go to temporary care with a relative or foster family. If abuse or neglect was present in any form, parents must eradicate it. In the end, however, unless the parents refuse to change or there is a really serious problem, everyone usually goes home together.
Resources for Families
Please take care of your children during this time. Be involved with their schoolwork. Talk to them about coronavirus and their reactions, feelings, thoughts about, the pandemic. Make sure they are eating well, getting enough sleep, and getting enough exercise. Limit their exposure to COVID-19 news. Click here for more tips.
Perhaps more importantly, take care of yourself. Make sure you are not watching too much news, at least the news that paints doom and gloom. Make sure you are eating, sleeping, and exercising. If something angers you, walk away. Above all, if you need help, ask for help. That’s what these people are there for.
For more ways to weather the coronavirus storm, reach out to the Montgomery County bail bond professionals at Fizer Bonding Company. Fizer Bonding Company is a proud member of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents.
“We’ll get your tail outta jail!”
Fizer Bonding Company in Montgomery County Tennessee
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