The Invisible Children Around Us

The recession has hit many people in the United States and has received much of the media’s attention. Students are financially strained by the extra increases in tuition and finding a job after graduation is something most students fear. Parents are facing major changes in their careers; many have been left without jobs and are uncertain about the future. Even in the media, there is constant coverage over celebrities losing houses and owing the government money in back taxes.

However, despite all of this media coverage surrounding victims of the recession, there is one critical group of people who remain quiet and away from the public eye. Teenage runaways are increasingly becoming more of a problem for the government to handle. There is a huge gap between the needs of the homeless minor population and availability of government funds for resources such as youth centers.

Teenage runaways are nothing new. However, the troubled economy has made the situation worse.  How much worse is not immediately clear. It is difficult to find an exact figure in the number of runaway children, since many of them are fleeing from families that may not report them missing.

Congress is in the process of creating a bill that will change state requirements. Police will be required to evaluate the minors in youth centers before they are expected to properly file a missing person’s report. The prospective bill would produce block grants, creating new programs providing shelter and other social services like drug treatment and job training.

At a time when Americans are clutching onto their money, many may disagree with a tax increase to protect runaways, feeling no connection to the issue. However, the costs of not dealing with the situations of these “invisible” children will scar the development of the new American society.

The stimulus package has provided millions of dollars to those that are unable to survive through their own means, but this aid is provided mostly for homeless families, not to individual minors. This adds another obstacle to other age-related limitations the runaways face. Many must rely on a family member or friend, who most likely has his or her own financial problems, for help. This makes them vulnerable to harmful life choices, such as prostitution, drug dealing or theft. Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children, summed up the cost to society this way, “We can pay a dollar to deal with these kids when they first run away, or 20 times that in a matter of years when they become the adult homeless or incarcerated population.”

The recession may end, leaving many of us at a better place, but these minors will find it nearly impossible to escape their lifestyle, and high crime rates will most likely follow us for decades to come as a result. Funding a runaway teenager is much cheaper than supporting them when they are older and may have a family of their own. Many of the female runaways become pregnant and will require state assistance. They will raise their children in environments much more unstable than their own childhood, which is a very frightening image. Refusing to help them when they still have time to recover psychologically will only allow a vicious cycle in which these children teach the same way of life to their offspring.

Sophia Solis is a fourth-year political science major. She can be reached at sophias@uci.edu