Q&A: Serving Homeless Youth Who Run Away from Foster Care

A young person running away through a tunnel.

For runaway and homeless youth service providers, the scenario is familiar —a young person who has run away from their foster care family is utilizing an agency’s shelter and services, and the staff isn’t sure which funds to charge for these services.

The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) and the Children’s Bureau (CB) are aware of this challenge and jointly issued an information memorandum in November 2014 to provide guidance and resources for serving youth who run away from foster care.

“The whole key here is to find some level of stability so that [youth who have run away from foster care] are not on the street, they're not sleeping in cars, they're not doubling up with strangers that may put them at risk for sexual abuse or sexual exploitation,” says Christopher Holloway, FYSB’s runaway and homeless youth program manager.

We spoke to Holloway, and Catherine Heath, the CB’s child and family program specialist, to learn more about the memorandum.

NCFY: Why did FYSB partner with the Children’s Bureau to release the November 2014 information memorandum?

Holloway: We know that there's an overwhelming representation of youth with child welfare histories…in the runaway and homeless youth system. We also know that, generally, that the systems across the country don't necessarily speak with one another.

So those two items, coupled with some confusion in the field about payment for the care of foster care youth, necessitated some guidance that in fact it was appropriate for runaway and homeless youth providers to provide predominantly emergency shelter services, basic center program services to foster care youth, up to the 21 day maximum. [And] they should consider going to the local child welfare system to seek reimbursement for the care rather than charge the RHY grant [office].

NCFY: The information memorandum suggests that agencies create Memorandums of Understanding, or MOUs, or contracts with each other. How should a RHY grantee approach their local child welfare agency to initiate the development of an MOU/contract?

Heath: The first step is to contact the child welfare agency at the state or local level. The RHY provider needs to clarify what segments of the child welfare population they’re serving [e.g., children adopted from foster care, young people who had been placed with relatives, etc.], and then the two agencies need to think through how to tailor services and support for those youth and families.

You might start with the cookie cutter MOU or contract that is the standard one that a child welfare agency or a county has in place. The time [needed] to actually [develop and] sign that MOU/contract is not wasted. You're developing relationships and networks and an understanding of your ability to implement your vision and mission around the work of young people.

The best MOUs and contracts are ones that continue to be revisited, so as the partnership and work evolves, there’s an ability to come back together to really understand if the MOU/contract is meeting the needs of those organizations, and to continue to strengthen that relationship.

NCFY: Are there resources to support agencies in the process of developing MOU’s/contracts?

Holloway: The Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center is available to provide sample MOUs or to help with language that would be appropriate.

Heath: The Children’s Bureau also offers resources, such as the Child Welfare Information Gateway site. In addition, our 10 regional offices are always a great source of support and have staff members who specifically work with each of the states. Collaboration, partnership, and stakeholder engagement are critical to the work of child welfare. Much of the work that we've been doing over the last five years has been to continue to support child welfare and active engagement with stakeholders.

Learn more about youth who run away from foster care.

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