|a note for parents, teachers and counselors|
|In past years, the National Association of Social Workers has estimated an average of one million kids run away from home annually. If that's true again this year, 2,740 boys and girls will run away today. That's one every thirty seconds.
As you read these words, some of the boys and girls packing to leave are victims of molestation. Some are battered kids. Some have folks who drink too much. Some have stepparent trouble, single parent trouble, or growing up trouble. Some are gay. Some have been living in foster care. Some are emotionally disturbed. Some are drug addicts. Some are pregnant. Some don't like school. Some resent their curfews. Some don't want to take out the trash. Some are trying to prove a point. Some are trying to punish their parents. Some are looking for adventure. A few simply broke windows or got bad report cards and are afraid to go home.
Whatever a kid's reason for running, it's almost always true that what you run to on the streets is worse than what you ran from. Kids who were getting physically abused at home get beaten into comas on the street, mostly by other kids. Kids who were being molested at home run to the streets where unpleasant sex is daily survival.
In two weeks, even the young boy nervous about his F in Math today, or the sweet girl who bags your groceries in the market this evening, can be gazing wanly into oncoming traffic like a glassy-eyed fawn in the headlights of some pedophile's car.
Meal to meal, compromise to compromise, THE RUNAWAY GAME reveals the stresses that can transform any teenager into a hard-core street kid. While the book avoids foul language or graphic depictions of the survival sex common on the streets, you get an intimate understanding of how street life changes a teenager. The psychological transition from naive runaway to hardened street kid is realistic.
As I prepared THE RUNAWAY GAME, the difficult question was always, "How far should it go?" Children on the street participate in humiliating and traumatic activities to survive, things one is reluctant to encourage young people to read. On the other hand, if I omitted all references to these things, the streets might not seem so bad. Kids might run away and tragically discover for themselves the hideous ugliness I left out. In the end, I hope I've been able to communicate the graphic reality of street life in a dose akin to an inoculation: not enough to harm, but enough to prevent the child from ever experiencing the disease itself.
My first draft of this book tried to blur the distinctions between street life for boys and girls to cater to either reader, but it didn't work. Street life for a young female runaway is very different than for males. A combination of perceived vulnerability and real vulnerability causes her to be victimized in different ways, regardless of the street culture she falls in with. Because my co-workers and I saw twice as many boys as girls on the streets, I had twice as many real-life experiences to draw from, and I wrote the boy's version of this book first.
THE RUNAWAY GAME can be used to spark discussion in groups or in one-on-one sessions with young people. It's also a way to reach out to kids reluctant to talk. They can play the game when and where they feel comfortable and, when they are ready, share any thoughts or questions prompted by the reading.
Many teachers use the game as an interesting homework assignment. Students log on and read through one or more of the game's multiple paths. Returning to class, they discuss how life on the street was different from what they imagined. They compare notes on the choices they made, why they made them and the consequences of those decisions.
My greatest hope, of course, is that after reading THE RUNAWAY GAME, a troubled young person who was considering running away will decide that it is not an option. If this book tells you anything, it's that the answers to a kidŐs problems are not found on the street. I hope a young person in trouble will turn to some of the other options I discuss at the very end of the book, most of which include talking with a trusted adult already in their life.
You may be that adult. Both THE RUNAWAY GAME and my earlier book, CHILDREN OF EVE, are used in colleges to educate social work students about the challenges of working with at-risk youths. If you are a parent, a teacher, a family friend or a social services professional, please try to be a dependable knot in the net that catches kids before they fall to the streets. Because too many adults don't take talk of kids running away seriously. They think it's only teen drama. Sometimes it is. But kids really do run away. Some don't live, many don't return, and none are ever the same.
Kevin M. Casey
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