The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act may have changed the national approach to helping at-risk young people, but the field has been evolving for forty years, encompassing a greater number of services, treatment techniques, and measurements. Here are some of the biggest legislative and research advancements along the way:
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 created the first coordinated strategy for the care and treatment of youth in the U.S. justice system. Title III, the Runaway Youth Act, said that runaways, truants or curfew violators could not be put in juvenile detention facilities or adult jails. States that complied received funding from the Family and Youth Services Bureau for emergency youth shelters called Basic Centers.
Chicago-based youth crisis hotline Metro Help received an 8-month demonstration grant from FYSB to determine whether there was a need for a national runaway hotline. During that time, Metro Help received 11,000 calls. The FYSB-funded National Runaway Safeline currently receives more than 100,000 calls a year.
Congress expanded the eligibility of Basic Center services from runaways to young people who were also “otherwise homeless.” In the last ten years, more than 440,000 young people under 18 experiencing homelessness have stayed in Basic Centers.
Congress established the Transitional Living Program for Older Homeless Youth in response to the fact that family reunification was not always a safe or viable option for homeless young people. More than 35,000 young people have been served by TLP in the last decade.
Youth development researcher Karen Pittman coined the phrase “problem-free isn’t fully prepared,” a mantra that helped shift the national focus of youth work from preventing individual problems to promoting a young person’s overall strengths and resilience. FYSB’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs were built on a Positive Youth Development framework.
Congress established the Street Outreach Program to prevent young people on the street from falling victim to trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation. Street outreach programs made contact with street youth an average of 773,000 times each year over the past decade in an effort to connect them to shelter and services.
The University of North Carolina’s Carolina Population Center initiated the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, or AddHealth, following adolescents in grades 7-12 in the 1994-1995 school year through 2008. As the one of the only nationally representative study of adolescent health, this study has been a model for many research publications that track risk factors for running away and homelessness, the most prevalent being family instability, previous attempts to run away, and a history of victimization. It also revealed that girls, older youth, and youth in urban areas are more likely than younger youth, boys, and youth in rural or suburban areas to run away.
In addition, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, initiated the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, or ACES, one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. Data from this study show that youth who move around a lot are at greater risk for substance abuse and teen pregnancy, as they try to cope with new environments and other traumatic experiences likely to be related to their residential mobility.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children, or NISMART, reported that an estimated 1,682,900 youth had a runaway/thrownaway episode in 1999. The report found that 71 percent may be endangered because they are extremely young (13 or younger), they are in places where criminal activity is occurring, they abuse substances, or they have suffered sexual or physical abuse.
Recognizing that pregnant and parenting teens were disproportionately represented among the populations of homeless youth, Congress amended the RHYA to fund Maternity Group Homes using TLP funds. In FY13, 27 percent of young people in TLP programs were pregnant or parenting, and in the last decade, over 11,000 pregnant or parenting youth have stayed in TLP programs.
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago published the first installment of the seven-year Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, which tracks the overlap between the foster-care and runaway and homeless youth populations, among other outcomes. The study found that 1 in 3 youth that exited the foster care system was homeless for at least one night.
FYSB and the Children’s Bureau collaborated on the Support Systems for Rural Homeless Youth Demonstration Project to offer employment and housing services, youth engagement initiatives, and other programs tailored to homeless and foster youth in rural areas. That project ends in 2014.
FYSB and other federal agencies serving on the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness made a commitment to end youth homelessness by 2020.
In order to have a better picture of youth homelessness in the United States, FYSB and the Department of Housing and Urban Development began work to merge the two federal systems that collect statistics on homelessness. A new, integrated system will be launched in 2015.
For the first time, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s point-in-time count of homelessness in America includes unaccompanied homeless youth up to 24 years-old. More than 46,000 young people were counted.
FYSB and its partners celebrate 40 years of efforts to promote safety, self- sufficiency, wellbeing and permanent connections for homeless youth.