|JHSA - The Reporter||Summer 2008 Edition|
Betwixt & Between… con't.
If one of the above conditions is deemed by the courts not to be met, the courts can then determine where and with whom the youth will live (and not necessarily with the parents).
New Zealand law is basically similar to Australia’s. A youth aged 16 can leave home without parental consent, although until they are 17, the authorities can return the youth home if they are considered to be “at risk” (http://www.youthlaw.co.nz/default.aspx?_z=35). Two interesting asides here are that in New Zealand, a 10 year old child can be prosecuted for murder and manslaughter and a 17 year old youth charged with a criminal offence will appear in the adult court system and not the Youth Court (ibid).
One of the key challenges for a youth under the age of 18 who leaves their home is to find suitable (safe) and affordable accommodation. In most of North America, it is illegal for minors to sign binding contracts (such as leases) so getting into a rental property is impossible without an older guarantor becoming involved. Therefore the importance of youth emergency shelters and other non - profit agencies in accommodating homeless youth. In Australia and New Zealand, it is legal for youth 16 and older to sign a lease but finding a willing landlord may be difficult. In the United Kingdom, although youth can also sign leases, local social service agencies have an obligation to find suitable accommodation for youth aged 16 – 17 who request it (http://www.youthinformation.com/Templates/Internal.asp?
Of course, an equally important need for a young person going on their own is financial. Employment at 16 is not impossible (although most western countries have historically demonstrated the highest percentage of unemployed are in the 16 to 24 year old age bracket) but to find a job that now pays sufficiently to cover accommodation, food and other basic needs is not easy.
Young people therefore, without adequate financial means, are the most vulnerable to becoming engaged in illegal activities – usually out of necessity. Petty theft, drug dealing and prostitution are the most likely sources of funds for those in the most desperate state. .Engagement in such activities, and subsequently being charged and convicted, results in an indeterminate interaction with the legal system and social services, which may well extend into their age of majority.
Summary and Conclusions
From this brief review of the literature around the legalities and realities of young people leaving their parental/guardian residences, it would appear that the most common age is 16. Although 16 and 17 year olds are generally considered to be “minors” and therefore dependent individuals. Most jurisdictions are largely concerned whether the young person is able to live in “safe” conditions –i.e.: has appropriate housing, have the necessary financial means and is not involved in criminal behaviour. Even in those jurisdictions where the parent/guardian has the legal responsibility or right to retain custody of the under 18 year old, the chances of an unwilling 16 or 17 year old to be returned home if they have demonstrated a safe alternative is extremely low.
Furthermore, it would very unlikely for the issue to be brought before the courts if the police determined that the circumstances did not warrant it. Living with a suitable relative or older friend in an appropriate environment, continuing in school, being provided for by their own income or by a relative and possibly receiving counseling and support from public agencies would all mitigate against forcing the youth to return home.
Of course, the early departure of a youth from home is often the most difficult for the parents and the families impacted. The reasons for leaving are diverse and varied. Sometimes the young person leaves because of unresolved conflict and disagreements between family members and sometimes it is only because the young person desires to have more independence than the parents are willing or prepared to give.
The chances of success for a young person to be able to look after themselves once they leave their home hinges greatly upon their personality and level of maturity. Some 16 year olds can be extremely mature and quite ready for an independent lifestyle (or certainly one with fewer constraints than many families can or should have to allow).
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