Shelter, food, counseling and medical care may not seem like typical 18th birthday presents, but many local experts say, thanks to a state law, many underage runaways in Georgia often wait until then to seek such services at local shelters. “A lot of runaways show up at shelters on their 18th birthday seeking services that they could not get before due to their age,” says Kirsten Widner of Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center. “Under the bill that we’ve drafted, they would not have to wait until they’re 18 anymore.”
Currently emergency shelters in Georgia that serve runaways face a legal liability if staffers provide services to young people under the age of 18 without parental permission. In light of the law, most shelters in the state do not serve underage runaways at all. The staffs at those that do, typically try to contact the child’s parent or guardian before providing any services.