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Situation: Brandi is 16 years old and is thinking of running away from home. She would like to live with her aunt and uncle. Her aunt and uncle would love to have her, but her parents will not allow it.

Question: If Brandi runs away from home to live with her aunt and uncle, can Brandi’s aunt and uncle face criminal charges?

Answer: Yes. Brandi’s aunt and uncle may face criminal charges for harboring a runaway if Brandi’s parents report her as a runaway. However, before Brandi runs away from home, her aunt and uncle can file for legal guardianship of Brandi and then a judge will decide if it would be better for Brandi to live with her aunt and uncle than with her parents. Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 11-305.  Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 9-304.

For information on runaway rights, consider calling the Maryland Youth Crisis Hotline at 1-800-422-0009 or the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY. Both provide crisis intervention, telephone and chat counseling, and referrals for callers seeking food, shelter, or transportation. Both are toll-free, and available 24/7.

If a minor has run away because she lives in an abusive home, she should report the abuse to any person licensed by the state, such as law enforcement officers, teachers, and health care professionals. Child Protective Services may then get involved on behalf of the teen. The minor may also call Child Protective Services directly at 1-800-332-6347 to report the abuse and ask for help.

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At any time, a minor may decide to live with another adult relative or friend with the permission of the parent or legal guardian. The parent or legal guardian would still be responsible for providing financial support to the minor. If her parents do not give their permission, the adult relative or friend could be charged with kidnapping, interference with child custody, and/or harboring a runaway. Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 11-305.  Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 9-304.

The parents of minor children are entitled to the long-settled presumption that a parent’s decision regarding the custody or visitation of his or her child with third parties is in the child’s best interest. This presumption is premised on the notion that the affection of a parent for a child is as strong and potent as any that springs from human relations and leads to desire and efforts to care properly for and raise the child, which are greater than another would be likely to display. Koshko v. Haining, 398 Md. 404, 423-24, 921 A.2d 171, 182 (2007).

The State of Maryland has a strong interest in reuniting families. In Maryland, parents can report a missing teen as a missing child if she is under 18 years old. This gives the police the right to find the minor and return her to her parents. However, for the police to get involved, a parent must first make a report that a teen has run away or is missing. Some parents choose not to report anything to the police when their child leaves home without their permission. Some parents force their teen daughters to leave home even though they are still legally responsible for their child until they turn 18 years old.

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