Friday, July 19, 2013

Time to Reunite With Family

Since the dawn of human history, families have made an effort to get together and celebrate their common roots.  Since the June 1985 federal Proclamation 5351, the United States of America has officially celebrated the American tradition of family reunions with Family Reunion Month.  Ronald Regan’s presidential proclamation reminded us of three things:
  • That families are the cornerstone of America;
  • That family reunions are occasions that renew the feelings of love, pride, and support that nurture our lives;
  • That there is no more joyous and poignant family reunion than the return to the family of a child who has run away from home.
Though the original emphasis of Family Reunion Month was more about raising awareness of the plight of families with runaway children, over time the focus has become more about celebration of family roots through reunions. 

One change: the month.  Family Reunion Month is now July.  What has not changed significantly is the problem of runaways.  The number of young people between the ages of 10 and 17 who run away from home is estimated by the federal government at more than one million annually.  Less measurable is emotional stress of the family going through the experience of having a runaway child.

family hands

Make a difference for runaways

Fortunately, many families are reunited with their runaway son or daughter.  For these thousands of families, the joy of reunion with their prodigal son or daughter is far greater than what most of us experience when we enjoy a scheduled family get-together.  With that in mind, add these families to your thoughts or prayers when you gather together with your own family – that families with runaways may experience reunion and a resolution of the conditions that precipitated the flight of the child (for example, an estimated 21 percent of runaways are physically or sexually abused at home, a situation that often precipitates the flight).

In the spirit of the original proclamation, we can all play a role in helping families with runaways or returned runaways, or in improving situations in our own families that may otherwise lead to the flight of child.

Regarding the former, volunteers are often needed to help staff crisis intervention programs.  Regarding the latter, parents can strive to keep open lines of communication with their children and take steps to strengthen family relationships.

And let’s not forget the value of an official family reunion; you can do much to strengthen family ties through gatherings and activities such as family reunions that involve as many members as possible.  The very act of family gatherings of relatives can help participating children and teens develop a sense of belonging.

Strengthening that sense of having significance by relationship can help them through difficult times, potentially reducing the chance that they may run away from home.


Statistics on runaways in the U.S.

According to Child Find of America Inc., two-thirds of runaway children are between 15 and 17 years old and equally spread between boys and girls. More than half are short term flights, with children returning to their home within a week.  A full 99 percent return home eventually. 

What motivates children to run away?  The main reason – an estimate 42 percent of the time – is family problems.  Other reasons include peer pressure (14 percent), drug or alcohol abuse (5 percent), or physical abuse (about 4 percent).

Family get-together

Celebrate Family Reunion Month

Even if you do not have July family reunion ceremonies or activities of an official nature, you can celebrate the importance of family of many other ways.
  • Celebrate the core unit of your family by scheduling a get-together event this month.  It can be as simple as a favorite family meal or sport activity.  It can be made more special by taking turns at the dinner table, giving each person a time to be in the “spotlight” while the other family members each share one thing about that individual that they appreciate.
  • If you have extended family in your town, consider an impromptu mini-reunion.  Unlike a major gathering of the geographically scattered relatives, a local event for local family groups can be done on the fly and affordably.  Consider having a family picnic-and-games day at a local city park, for instance.
  • Are you a college student, away from home?  Most likely, your parents would appreciate seeing you, at least hearing from you, more than you realize.  Consider celebrate Family Reunion Month by dropping by (and not just to do laundry) or making a call (and not just for money). 
  • By yourself or with your family members, get involved with a local organization by volunteering at, for instance, a runaway shelter, orphanage, or crisis intervention group. 
Above all, take time this month to celebrate the importance of family in some fashion; honor and celebrate your heritage by connecting with family and relatives.  If possible, share that celebration in person with other family members.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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