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Parents' anguish turns to support

(ran E edition)

Legally, Beth and Dave Tansey can do nothing about the fact that their 18-year-old daughter left home and wants nothing to do with them.

The law says that once a child reaches the age of 18 he or she is an adult and has no obligation to check in at home.

But what the law doesn't take into account is that the Tanseys' daughter Lee is young and vulnerable and could be in trouble, Beth Tansey said.

"This is worse than a death," she said. "If she had died we would grieve and get on with our lives. But this is worse because she is alive and our hands are tied."

Having no legal recourse is hard, Mrs. Tansey said. But the Tanseys also discovered there are no support groups for parents whose teenage children have run away. Because they are new in town, having moved to Florida from Chicago a year ago, the Tanseys had no one with whom they could talk about their daughter. Existing support groups helped parents deal with drug abuse and behavior problems, but not runaways, Mrs. Tansey said.

So they formed Parents of Runaway Teens.

The group meets twice a month in the Tanseys' home in northern Hillsborough County. Four couples have joined the fledgling group. A small newspaper announcement generated about 50 calls, prompting the Tanseys to believe that many more people have had similar experiences.

"I can only think that it's going to grow," Mrs. Tansey said of PORT. "We've gotten a lot of calls."

Last October Lee Tansey left her parents' home to live with her boyfriend's family in Chicago, Mrs. Tansey said. She doesn't return phone calls and wants nothing to do with her parents, Mrs. Tansey said.

"It's not a case where I'm jealous," Mrs. Tansey said. "It's a case where I fear for her life."

When the Tanseys moved to Florida from Chicago for Dave Tansey to take a computer engineering job about a year ago, Lee, then 17, didn't take to the area and wanted to move back, Mrs. Tansey said. When Lee's boyfriend moved from Chicago to Tampa things got worse.

"After he came down we discovered a dark side to him we never knew existed," she said.

On her 18th birthday, Lee went out to dinner with her boyfriend. She later announced plans to move back to Illinois with him, Mrs. Tansey said.

"We kind of forced her hand," she said of her daughter. "She did it. We knew she was going to do it anyway."

There has been little contact with Lee since that time, she said.

Next month Mrs. Tansey plans to fly to Chicago to try and see her daughter. In the meantime, having people nearby who understand the couple's trying situation has helped ease the pain, she said.

"I'm getting better," she said. "I don't cry every day anymore."