National Runaway Prevention Month 2015: 10 Questions to Screen Runaway Youth for Sexual Abuse

Laurel Edinburgh

It's National Runaway Prevention Month! In the spirit of raising awareness of runaway and homeless youth this November, we're re-posting several articles that highlight this group's unique needs and experiences. In this article first published in 2012, a nurse practitioner shares how police in St. Paul, Minnesota, ask 10 questions to screen runaway youth for sexual abuse.

Until recently, police in St. Paul, Minnesota, had only one question when they released a runaway youth from custody: Did the young person get home?

Today, police ask ten questions of every runaway teen they come into contact with. The questions were chosen specifically to help police identify sexually abused teens and get them treatment. Researchers from the Midwest Children’s Resource Center at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota teamed up with the police, put together the questions, and tested them out on more than 250 runaway youth.

When police officers asked, most teens answered. One in 10 revealed that they’d been sexually touched or assaulted while away from home.

We spoke with Laurel Edinburgh, a nurse practitioner and researcher from the resource center, about how the 10-Question Tool can be used to identify sexually abused teens and help them get treatment.

NCFY: How is the St. Paul Police Department using the 10 questions?

Edinburgh: For each youth that runs away, when they return home someone from the missing persons department interviews the youth. Or when the youth returns to school, the youth is interviewed by a school resource officer.

Then we have pathways for what is supposed to happen next in terms of connecting kids to services. “Are you afraid at home?” Well, if the kid says yes, then our police have a lot of critical thinking skills that they use all the time. “Why are you afraid at home?” And if then the kid also says, “I’m being abused at home,” well that would be an opportunity for a teen to go to shelter and then have further follow up at the child advocacy center in our community.

NCFY: So it’s not just about asking the questions. You also have to have those connections between the police and service providers set up.

Edinburgh: You do, and I think our community was wise and said you can’t ask a question or pick a scab and then not offer anything afterward. That didn’t feel fair or ethical to us as this was being implemented.

NCFY: What do you recommend for runaway and homeless programs that want to get police in their community to use this tool?

Edinburgh: I think you start with a broad spectrum of people in your community that would see that this is a way to do screening and to help the police link kids to services.

We have found that the police were very open and motivated to do this because they want fewer kids running away. And if you’re not identifying the problems that are leading the kid to run away, then the kid’s going to keep running away.

More Information

“Runaway Youth Helped Using 10-Question Tool”

"Assessment and Screening Tools for Measuring Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Independent Living Skills in Adolescents"

"Does Running Away Increase a Girl's Risk of Sexual Assault After She Returns Home?"

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