So many adolescents are living on Orange County streets and malls that "we could have 1,000 beds and fill them up," said the director of one of the county's shelters for runaways, truants and incorrigibles.
As it is, the county's three dozen beds for juvenile runaways are almost always filled at shelters such as Amparo Youth Shelter or Odyssey, both in Garden Grove, and Casa de Bienvenidos in Los Alamitos.
"More and more kids are running away at earlier ages," said J. L. Radford-Williard, Amparo director. "Some kids are unwilling to go to a shelter."
Amparo counselors aim to reunite the family, but when the parents refuse to participate, they try to help the children 16 and older attain emancipation, a legal status for minors giving them the rights and responsibilities of adults. A 4 1/2-month training program is available for six minors at a time at the Emancipation Training Center (ETC) in Anaheim.
But most parents, however frustrated, want to stay involved, said Greg Bodenhamer, director of Back in Control, an Orange-based program that teaches parenting techniques for difficult children. "A lot of parents do get burned out temporarily and just need a rest," he said.
The Back in Control program trains parents to:
- Supervise their children. Parents should know where their children are going and with whom before they leave the house, he said. "If they can't be trusted not to run, do drugs, they don't get out of the house until they earn that trust."
- Discipline their children. Parents should develop a consistent family life with regular routines and chores. They should make sure children go to bed and get up on time and make their beds, with the goal of instilling habits.
- Track them down when they run away. Parents should keep a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of friends. Friends should be approached with concern and worry, not hostility, he said. Adults harboring runaway children should be notified they may be subject to arrest for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
- Keep their children in school. School officials should be asked to notify the parents the same day if the children skip class. "If the girl cuts, we recommend mom walk her from class to class. Ninety-five per cent only have to go one time."
- Provide alternative supervision when they need to be out. After-school supervision can be provided by neighbors, friends or volunteer programs. Adult supervision also is available through athletics, drama, music, yearbook programs or afternoon or evening Regional Occupational Programs.
Parents who cannot be home at night regularly need to change their schedules or jobs, he said. They need to provide an atmosphere in which their children feel comfortable and wanted.
"They should hug and kiss, even if the kid is a little pill that day," he said.
Bodenhamer, a former probation officer and father of three, believes there are no "bad kids."
"Every kid is workable. Some need more work and more structure than others," he said. "I've seen horrible family situations with rotten kids turned around because parents took the time and the energy to do it."