The Saskatoon Police Service is partnering with community groups to address the issue of habitual runaway youth in the city.

Operation Runaway, which was presented to the police commissioners board Thursday, uses support circles to tackle the root causes of why young people run away from their families or group homes.

The support circles would include police officers, EGADZ staff, social services workers, elders and others. The goal is to listen and offer support to young people who leave their homes to better understand why they run away.

Participating in the open dialogue would be voluntary unless the person was breaching conditions or has warrants for their arrest.

“We're there to listen, and maybe if they are willing to share the reasons why they are running, we are able to come up with a case plan for them to activate,” Insp. Randy Huisman said. “We would support in that case plan and hopefully the amount of runs would decrease.”

Huisman, who presented the pilot project to the board, said costs would be “minimal” to run the pilot project.

There are numerous costs associated with searching for missing youth, he said. Patrol officers look for the person around the clock and, if they don’t locate the person after four days, the case gets turned over to the missing persons unit where investigators continue searching.

There were nearly 2,500 missing persons reports in 2016 in Saskatoon. Seventy-eight per cent of those reports involved youth, according to police.

Husmain said there are about 30 kids who run away habitually. Some of them do so 30 to 40 times a year.

Don Meikle, executive director of EGADZ, told the police board about a young girl who ran away every day before EGADZ discovered she was doing so to check on the welfare of her nieces and nephews.

“We need to get rid of these assumptions that these are just bad defiant kids that don't want to be at home because there are a lot of them that are running away for some really interesting and bad reasons,” he said.

The pilot project needs final approval from the Ministry of Social Services before it can officially begin. Huisman said they’d like to host the first support circle next month.

“This is about us telling them we want to sit and listen to what they have to say. We actually care about them,” he said.

Operation Runaway is based on Operation Help, a program developed by Saskatoon police in 2000 to help those wanting to leave the sex trade. Saskatoon police called that program very successful.