On a particularly crisp fall evening, Beth left her class, stopped by a coffee house and prepared for her volunteer shift at the National Runaway Switchboard (NRS). Beth sipped her latte unaware that her very first hotline call that day would change her life forever.
When Beth picked up the phone at 1-800-RUNAWAY, she heard the reluctant hesitation of a young girl. Beth reassured the caller to take her time and that NRS services were confidential and anonymous.
“My name is Terese. I don’t know what to do anymore. Could you help me?”
First, Beth asked Terese about her immediate safety. Terese explained that she wasn’t in danger and was calling from her mother’s house while the family was out. As the conversation continued, Beth built a rapport with Terese. Eventually, Terese blurted out the purpose of her call.
“Is there a way to move out of my house and take my brothers and sister without getting my mom in trouble?”
“Do you feel you need to leave immediately with your siblings?” asked Beth with concerns for Terese’s safety.
“My mother makes me do things I don’t want to do and she makes me not do things I enjoy doing,” murmured Terese. “All I want to do is go to school and make sure my brothers and sister do the same. I know my mom cares, but she cares more about her drugs. I like school and I like learning, but my mom thinks that school is a waste and she feels that I should get a job to help her get money for her boyfriend and their drugs.”
Beth was overwhelmed with a sudden rush of sadness. She used skills from her NRS training to hold her composure in an effort to help Terese.
“Does anyone else know about this?” asked Beth.
“My aunt might know but I try to keep stuff to myself.”
“You said that your mom makes you do things you don’t like to do. What does she make you do?” asked Beth.
“Well, I don’t like staying home all the time to do all the chores around the house. She also takes all of my birthday and gift money and uses it to buy drugs for herself and her boyfriend.”
“You said your aunt might be helpful. Have you talked to her?”
Terse hesitated and then responded, “I just don’t want to get her involved because she could tell the police and my family would be split apart. I don’t want that.”
Before Beth could say anything, Terese interrupted, “Wait! I know what I could do. I can just stay at school and bring my brothers and sister with me. That way we can all be together and safe.”
“So you are saying that you and your siblings can stay at school longer so you have a reason to stay away from home?”
“Yes,” Terese confirmed.
Although Beth felt like Terese had developed a viable plan, she didn’t want to hang up with Terese without some other adult being a part of that plan.
“Do you think your aunt could help you with this issue?”
“As long as she doesn’t know about what is going on, and I’m safe, she can visit me at home. When she’s there, my mom won’t bother me as much. Even though my aunt would take care of me really well and give me and my brothers and sister whatever we needed, I can’t get my mom in trouble.”
After they reviewed the plan, Beth heard a noise in the background indicating someone arriving at Terese’s house.
“I’m going to tell my aunt the plan,” Terese whispered in excitement, “Goodbye and thank you so much.”
Terese immediately hung up, ending the call. Beth was amazed at how little she herself spoke on that call and how quickly Terese came up with ideas about how to handle her own situation.
That night Beth fell asleep smiling as she thought of those last few words, “Goodbye and thank you so much!”
The National Runaway Switchboard has over 17,000 resources throughout the country that help youth and their families. Call 1-800-RUNAWAY or visit the website www.1800RUNAWAY.org for more information. In addition, as strong youth advocates, NRS utilizes a five-step model of crisis intervention to work with callers to develop a plan of action. Although this story is based on an actual telephone call to the National Runaway Switchboard, names have been changed to protect confidentiality.