The potential consequences of harboring a runaway include criminal charges and civil liability suits, says Nolo. Laws vary from one state to another, but many states have laws against contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
In some states, providing shelter or transportation to a runaway minor may be against the law, and some state laws even prohibit encouraging a minor to run away from home, according to Nolo. Lying to a parent or police officer about a child's whereabouts may be illegal in certain states, and some states have laws pertaining to an adult's responsibility for a runaway's criminal behavior, such as using drugs. Although these laws are not often enforced, the possibility of a civil suit also exists.
Alternatives to harboring a runaway include seeking legal guardianship, emancipation and dependency, says Nolo. Most runaways return home in a few weeks, but sometimes a court grants legal guardianship to an adult other than the child's parents. Emancipation is the process of asking the court to make a minor an adult in a legal sense, meaning they will be responsible for themselves. In some states, the child's parents must agree to emancipation. Dependency proceedings grant the court guardianship of a child, and the court decides where the child will live.