Runaways & Ungovernability

Runaway and ungovernability cases (the latter may also be called “incorrigibility” or “beyond the lawful control of one’s parent”), can be particularly difficult for professionals to meaningfully help families and young people resolve.  They are often rooted in family conflict and the parent’s expressed interests may be at odds with the child’s.  Many youth who run away may be running from an abusive situation or running to an unsafe environment. The National Standards provide relevant and practical guidance to help ensure youth charged with running away or ungovernability are safe, offered the services and assistance they need, and do not slip deeper into the justice system or experience the negative outcomes associated with system involvement.


System players must ensure that past trauma and other experiences are identified and responded to with appropriate screening, assessment, treatment, services and supports.  Section 1.4 illustrates ways social service agencies and courts can recognize and respond to the impact trauma has on youth charged with status offenses, particularly in runaway and ungovernability cases.

Gender-Responsive Services

System players should understand the developmental, behavioral and social differences between boys and girls and how their service needs are accordingly different.  Section 1.9 outlines concrete steps professional can take to make gender-responsive choices regarding interventions, treatment and services before, during, and following court involvement.

First Responders

First responders to status offense cases should aim to resolve all status offense matters through the provision of voluntary diversion services and by determining the reason behind system contact.  There are many steps professionals can take to promote voluntary service alternatives for their  runaway and ungovernability clients, and strategies they can use to identify the family circumstances or unmet needs that prompted system involvement. See Section 2.1, Section 2.2 and Section 2.6 to learn more. 

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Prevention and Intervention

Law enforcement professionals play a critical role in ensuring young people do not unnecessarily enter the status offense system.  The National Standards calls upon them to focus on prevention and intervention by connecting children and families to needed services in lieu of charging or detaining children.  See Section 2.4 to learn more.

This page was adapted from the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses.

1 Coalition for Juvenile Justice. (nd) Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) Facts and Resources. Available at:

2 Puzzanchera, C. Adams, B., and Sarah Hockenberry.(2012). Juvenile Court Statistics 2009. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.