What is Being Done to Prevent Youth in Foster Care From Running Away?

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Running Away from Foster Care: What Do We Know and What Do We Do?” (abstract). Kimberly Crosland and Glen Dunlap. Journal of Child and Family Studies, Vol. 24, No. 6 (2015).

What it’s about: According to the authors, when young people run away from foster care, they experience increased risks of substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, sexual assault, and engaging in or becoming victims of criminal activity. A runaway episode can also lead to a new placement, which can result in a change in schools, reduced school attendance, and severed bonds with family, friends, and faith communities. In this literature review, Crosland and Dunlap analyze what research says about the prevalence, risk factors, and outcomes of running away from foster care, as well as the interventions implemented to stop it from happening.

Why read it: We know that youth with histories of foster care involvement experience higher rates of homelessness than their peers. Additionally, we know that multiple factors—such as age, gender, and number of removals from family—are connected to runaway behavior that can forge a path to homelessness. Crosland and Dunlap describe young people's risk factors and motivations for running away, and whether any interventions have been studied to prevent runaway behavior. Reading their findings may help child welfare workers and other service providers identify and provide additional support to youth at increased risk of leaving a placement.

Biggest takeaways from the research: The authors identified only one study that investigated the effectiveness of a runaway prevention approach specific to foster care youth. The study was part of a statewide foster care initiative, the Behavior Analysis Services Program, which was implemented by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

In that study, researchers piloted the Functional Assessment-Youth Interaction Tool (FA-YIT) to see whether it helped reduce runaway behaviors in 13 foster care youth compared to 13 youth receiving standard services. The tool uses positive behavior support, an approach that assesses an unwanted behavior (e.g., running away), and recommends an individualized plan to modify young people’s environments to reduce the behavior’s frequency (e.g., arranging supervised visits between youth and their biological mothers).

Youth who received the intervention experienced a significant decrease in the percentage of days they achieved “runaway status,” while the youth in the comparison group did not. Crosland and Dunlap attribute the pilot’s success to FA-YIT's emphasis on customized plans based on each young person's unique motivations for running away from foster care. The reduction in runaway episodes and subsequent stabilization of foster care placements increase the odds that youth will obtain the social, educational, and life skills necessary to transition successfully to adulthood, the authors write.

Additional references: Learn more about youth with foster care experience and runaway and homeless youth in our digital library.

Watch four youth workers discuss how they are going to end youth homelessness in 2020.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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