Bright Idea: Making a Run Plan Can Help Keep Youth Safe

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Photograph of a young person leaving a house and carrying a backpack.

Sixteen-year-old “Jessica” of Brainerd, MN, had already been kicked out of her mother’s house and her boyfriend’s mother’s house when she got to the host home program run by Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, which places youth who need emergency shelter with local families. Jessica didn't stay with her host family for long, though. When she got back together with her boyfriend, she left. 

Of the thousands of runaway and homeless youth who take shelter in programs like LSS of Minnesota, a significant number leave within the first days or weeks, frustrated by program rules or, like Jessica, committed to being with a partner. Kathy Sauve, youth services program manager at LSS of Minnesota, says that some youth are going to run no matter what. The best thing programs can do to keep young people safe and track their progress, she says, is to make a “run plan” with them as soon as they walk in the door.

“We’re a really small team—there are only four of us,” she says. “The conversations we have while creating an intentional safety plan have helped us stay up to date on where the kids are staying and what they’re doing in town.”

Sauve suggests the following steps to creating a run plan when you start working with a young person:

Make a list of safe people and places. Sauve asks youth to list people in their support network and places they would go if they ran away. Sauve has found that helping youth think through their options can encourage them to make safer choices if they decide to leave.

“If it’s a young female client identifying a 23-year-old male friend, we discuss that arrangement further and consider what things might be dangerous,” she says.

Plan a safety path. LSS of Minnesota staff members make sure youth know about the Home Free program, which can give youth a bus ticket to travel back to parents or a trusted adult. Staff members also tell clients about local and national resources they can call to get connected to resources along their way, including LSS of Minnesota's 24-hour hotline (1-888-828-4383) and the National Runaway Switchboard hotline and chat.

“We had a young person with his own car who was trying to get to Austin,” Sauve says. “We did extensive research on what route he’d drive through and found resources in all of the cities he thought he’d find himself in. Then we kept in contact via text message until he made it back.”

Stay in touch digitally. Sauve “friends” young people through her professional or organizational Facebook page immediately, if they’ll let her. She still chats with Jessica online from time to time.

“It’s a small town and we know most of its characters,” Sauve says. “Being friends with [our clients] on Facebook allows us to see who they’re hanging out with and helps us stay in touch with them if they leave.”

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