Running away from home may seem like the answer to a bad situation, but it may be the wrong one. It may be much harder for you if you run away. Ask yourself:
- Will I be safe?
- Where will I go?
- Who will help if I get in trouble?
- How will I get by?
If you have already run away or if you have been kicked out of your home, we want you to know your rights as a runaway in Maine.
Can I be arrested?
NO. You cannot be arrested, fingerprinted or put in jail for running away from home if you live in Maine. Every state is different. The police can take you into what’s called “interim care” for up to 6 hours. This is NOT an arrest. The police officer will decide if he will take you into “interim care.” He does not have to. If you are in a safe place, like a friend's house and your friend's parents agree you can stay there, the officer may let you stay there while you make a plan for your future. If the officer thinks you are not safe and takes you into “interim care,” he must call your parent or guardian and DHHS. The police can ask your parents to take you home only if you and your parents agree to you going home. If you do not agree, the police must take you to where DHHS says you should go. Sometimes the police will bring you home even though you told them you do not agree. If that happens, call KIDS LEGAL.
What happens if DHHS is called?
It depends on why you have left your home. A DHHS worker may come out and meet with you. She may call your parents. She may do nothing. She may offer you short-term emergency services. If the DHHS worker thinks you will get hurt if you go home, she may try to get a court order. The court order would put you in DHHS custody. This means DHHS would make decisions for you and decide where you should live. Your parents would not have the right to make decisions for you while you are in DHHS custody. If you are in DHHS custody, DHHS needs to develop a plan to help you and your family work things out so you can go back home and be safe, or make a permanent safety plan for you outside of your parents' home.
Can an adult I am staying with be arrested?
In Maine, there is no such thing as "harboring a minor." If an adult is letting you stay with her so you are not on the streets AND you can leave her home at any time (she’s not keeping you there), then no law is broken. The adult should not be arrested. Every state is different. So, do not cross state lines. The adult and/or you can get in trouble if you leave Maine.
Are there places I can go for help?
YES, there are shelters, "drop-in" centers, and homeless youth outreach programs:
- Home Counselors, Inc., Homeless Youth Outreach, Knox, Waldo, Lincoln, Sagadahoc counties, North Haven, Vinalhaven, Islesboro Islands: 596-0359
- Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter (through Preble Street), Portland: 874-1197
- Maine Stay (support and residential treatment for homeless young adults 18-25 years old), Portland: 842-6890
- Mission Possible Teen Drop-In Center, Westbrook: 854-2800
- New Beginnings Shelter and Drop-in Center , Lewiston: 795-4070
- Opportunity Alliance (services and support for homeless youth 15 years old and younger) Cumberland and York counties: 1-877-429-6884, 523-5049
- Preble Street Drop-In Teen Center, Portland: 774-1197
- Shaw House Shelter and Drop-In Center, 136 Union St., Bangor: 941-2874
- Youth/Family Services Outreach, Augusta: 1-877-258-7949
If I am at a shelter, does the shelter have to tell my parents I am there?
That depends. A shelter is there to try to keep you safe.
Normally, a shelter must try to contact your parents within 3 hours of when you show up to spend the night. If your parents cannot be reached, the shelter will send a letter to them the next day. The shelter will call DHHS if they cannot find your parents.
The shelter will not call your parents if you believe your parents may hurt you. They will make a referral to DHHS instead. If you do not want your parents to know where you are, you can ask that your parents not be told. You must ask for this in writing. You can only make this request the first three nights you are at the shelter. After that, the shelter can call your parents. Work with shelter staff to make a safety plan for your future.
Can I get my stuff from home?
That depends. Even though you use things at home, like your furniture, computer, tv, and phone, they may not be yours. Most things are probably not yours. If your parents bought the property you use and it was not a gift to you, then the property belongs to your parents. You do not have a right to take it. Anything that you bought, even if it was from allowance or gift money, is yours. Anything that was a gift to you, like a tv for Christmas, is yours. You have the right to take your property. If your parents will not let you take it, you can contact the police to report it as stolen or have an adult file a small claims case on your behalf for the return of your property.
Can I get medical care without my parents?
YES. You can get treatment for:
- Family Planning
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Substance Abuse
- Mental Health
Also, if you have not been getting any support from your parents for the last 60 days, you can be treated for any condition without your parent's permission. The medical provider you go to will decide if she will treat you. If you get treatment, your parents cannot be notified. If your parents try to find out why you went for treatment, the doctor cannot tell them unless you sign a release form. You are responsible for paying for the appointment unless you have MaineCare or health insurance that will pay for it. There are homeless health clinics you can go to as well.
Can I get MaineCare (health coverage) and Food Stamps?
YES. If you do not live with your parents, you can apply for MaineCare and for Food Stamps. Go to the local DHHS office. You can also go to your local food pantry and/or soup kitchen.
What if I am being abused at home?
There are a few things you can do.
If you are afraid for your safety, you can file a Protection From Abuse Order against the person who is abusing you, even if it is your parent. If you are not 18 or are not legally emancipated, an adult who is a "person responsible for" you must bring the court case on your behalf. A person responsible for you is an adult who is responsible for your health or welfare. It does not have to be your parent or legal guardian. A DHHS worker can also bring a case on your behalf even if you are not in DHHS custody. If you are 18 or you are legally emancipated, you can bring the case on your own. You can get the forms at the local District Court or online. You may want to go to your local domestic violence project or sexual assault support agency for help.
You can contact DHHS Child Protective. If DHHS won’t help you, you can talk to 3 adults. Those 3 adults can file a "3 person petition" in District Court. The petition would ask that the Court order DHHS to take custody of you and find a safe place for you to live and give services to you and your family. More on Three-Person Child Protection Petitions.
If you do not want to get emancipated, or if you are under 16 years old, an adult can file a petition to be your legal guardian. This means they act as your parent. The adult has to file a Petition for Guardianship in the county Probate Court where you are staying. More on Guardianship of a Minor.
Can I go to school?
Some runaway students are considered "homeless students." You are a homeless student when you do not have an "adequate, fixed, regular nighttime residence." This means if you are living in a shelter, motel, campground, car, the streets, or if you are couch surfing with friends or family. In that case, you should be able to go to the school you were attending before you ran away, or the school where you are now staying. The school must provide transportation. The school must let you in the day you call them and/or show up. If the school makes you wait, call KIDS LEGAL.
If you are not a homeless student, but there are emergency reasons for why you are not living at home, the superintendent of the school where you are staying can let you enroll there. If you have a problem going to school, call KIDS LEGAL. More on Rights of Homeless Students
Where else can I turn to for help?
- National Runaway Switchboard: 1-800-RUNAWAY
- Homeless Crisis Hotline: 1-800-438-3890
- Covenant House NineLine: 1-800-999-9999
- If you are in crisis, you can call: 1-888-568-1112