Primary Sources: Running Away From Foster Care: Youths' Knowledge and Access of Services

Photograph of a young person running away.


Running Away from Foster Care: Youths’ Knowledge and Access of Services,” National Runaway Switchboard, April 9, 2011.

What it's about: The authors interviewed 50 youth between 14- and 17-years-old who had run away from foster care at least once in the previous year in order to find out how much young people know about services available to them, as well as how and why they use them. Half of the young people lived in Chicago and the other half lived in Los Angeles County.

Why read it: In Illinois alone, 52 percent of 17-year-olds in foster care had run away at least once. Knowing how and why these young people seek support can help youth service providers better reach out and assist them.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Young people in the study who ran away from their placements often didn’t use services like free meals and shelter because they were staying with friends or relatives, not on the street. Youth with foster care experience generally had similar or less knowledge about services available than other runaway youth. In particular, youth in foster care were not as familiar with the kinds of services that typically come from street experience like free meals, drop-in centers, street outreach and free showers. Those who avoided seeking help did so because they thought they would be turned in to the police or family services. Caseworkers can help prevent young people from running away by listening and trying to understand them, and helping to alleviate the effects of being placed away from their neighborhood, family, and friends. Youth in the study expressed a need for arrangements with police besides returning them to their placements, and telephone numbers to call if they do run away.

Additional reference: The National Runaway Switchboard, 1-800-RUNAWAY (786-2929), offers a 24-hour hotline with crisis intervention, message relay, conference calling, and free rides home to youth in need. The Switchboard also offers the Let’s Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum for young people, families, and youth service professionals.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)


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