When 16-year-old Max* ran away from home in Belgium due to a disagreement about his relationship with a 24-year-old, his distressed parents reported him missing to the 116 000 European hotline for missing children.

After a couple of days it became clear, via messages from his peers and the synchronization of his google account, that Max was travelling around Europe with his boyfriend with no access to a phone and therefore could not communicate with his parents. The parents feared that Max would want to return home and that his boyfriend may be preventing him from doing so, an idea which caused particular stress to his mother. She became impatient with the police, taking things into her own hands in desperation. Actions like depositing money to Max in order to facilitate a return, against police advice, and threatening to contact media outlets, took a toll on the cooperation.

Our member, Child Focus, played a vital role in facilitating smooth communication between the various actors and ensuring that Max’s parents were kept well informed.

When the Belgian public prosecutor put in a request for a public appeal, Max was immediately intercepted by the Italian police at a routine control point. Max’s return to Belgium was complex as no crime had been committed. There was no judicial framework to determine who was responsible for Max’ repatriation costs: his parents or the Public Prosecutors’ Office.

The social department of the Belgian police and the Italian juvenile court judge appointed to Max’s case, made joint efforts to ensure his safe return. Child Focus maintained the relationships between all parties, made practical arrangements for a smooth return and relayed vital information to Max’s parents.

When Max returned to Belgium, the youth court decided to place him in alternative care, where the youth court social service follows up with him.

*The child’s name has been changed for protection purposes