Bright Idea: Limiting Court Involvement Among Runaway Youth

Forty years after the Runway and Homeless Youth Act was authorized to provide shelter and services for youth who might otherwise have gone to jail, young people are still being locked up for running away.

In 2009, there were more than 90,000 arrests of young people for running away, says Lisa Pilnik, deputy executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which recently released a set of national standards for the care of young people charged with "status offenses" (PDF, 1.4MB). She says between 1995 and 2010, runaway cases were more likely to lead to detention than other status offenses—things that are against the law based on a person’s age, like truancy, curfew violations and underage drinking.

If you work with runaway and homeless youth, you know the devastating effect being saddled with a status offense can have.

“Research has shown that if [status offenders] are locked up with youth who have committed violent or other serious offenses, they may be more likely to develop anti-social attitudes and behaviors,” Pilnik says.

Here are some of the ways Pilnik believes runaway and homeless youth programs can help reduce the number of youth who are arrested for status offenses:

1. Prevention and parent education.
Ideally, Pilnik says, families should be able to get help, like counseling and other interventions, before youth run away. Establishing relationships with youth-servng programs early on can also help families feel more comfortable should a young person decide to stay at a shelter during a time of crisis.

You can also educate parents on how status offenses can hurt youth and help them understand the resources available to them. “Many times, parents might call law enforcement because they’re in crisis and don’t know what else to do,” Pilnik says.

2. Training for staff.
Help your staff understand your state’s laws and local trends. For example, are boys or girls more likely to be brought to court in your area? You might want to create a program that addresses that disparity.   

3. Community collaboration.
Reach out to local courts and legislatures, and tell them about your services. Detention can be expensive, so judges might be very willing to save public funds.

If you're looking to launch a community-wide initiative, Pilnik says you may find it helpful to contact local judges first because they often have strong relationships that make them powerful conveners.

“If you can get a judge on board, he or she can be the one to get everyone at the table,” she says.

Read "National Standards on the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses" (PDF,1.4 KB) on the Coalition for Juvenile Justice website.

Bright Idea: Prevent Trafficking by Reaching out to Transportation and Hospitality Providers

A hotel desk clerk checks in a man and much younger woman with no luggage and a request for a room by the exit. A truck driver dismisses a girl who approaches him while he fills up his gas tank as just another “lot lizard.”

Every day, employees in the hospitality and transportation industries may come across young people being trafficked without recognizing the signs of sexual exploitation or knowing how to help. In the growing efforts to identify victims and help them get the services they need, targeting these hotspots is a key strategy, say anti-trafficking advocates. And runaway and homeless youth providers are in a prime position to form local partnerships and point youth to safe alternatives.

Building a Network of 'Eyes and Ears' Against Trafficking

Already, anti-trafficking advocate ECPAT-USA partners with hospitality providers across the country to show how they can prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of youth. The organization offers online and in-person trainings to educate hotel staff on the dangers of trafficking and signs it might be happening within their walls.

“Basically, the Internet has pushed trafficking off the streets and behind the closed doors of hotels,” says Michelle Guelbart, director of private sector engagement. “Because hotels seem anonymous to traffickers and they feel that it’s risk-free, they’re continuing to run their businesses in hotels or meeting buyers there.”

Modules are designed for staff ranging from managers to security guards so they can learn what to do if they spot a young person who is scared or disoriented, for example, and how to reach out to local police or notify their supervisor. Part of ECPAT-USA’s work, Guelbart adds, is helping hotels come up with a protocol for reporting trafficking concerns so that properties can respond consistently and develop strong relationships with local law enforcement.

Similarly, Truckers Against Trafficking aims to mobilize truck stop managers and drivers against trafficking by teaching them how they can be the “eyes and ears of our nation’s highway,” says Executive Director Kendis Paris. The agency provides wallet cards that teach drivers about common red flags such as cars parked in truck-only areas, and encourages them to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

How Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs Can Help

Guelbart and Paris agree that runaway and homeless youth providers can take similar steps to raise awareness among the transportation and hospitality industries in their communities and educate employees about how they can help. Here are four tips:

  1. Become a patron. Make yourself a familiar face by buying gas or stopping for lunch at your local truck stop, Paris says, before scheduling a meeting. Similarly, agencies looking to plan a meeting or event at a local hotel can talk about trafficking while booking those contracts.
  2. Make trafficking a local issue. Many people think of trafficking as something that happens somewhere else. Approaching businesses with stories of exploitation that took place at a competitor or other familiar landmark may change their minds.
  3. Empower, don’t judge. According to Paris, explaining how local businesses can help end trafficking is far more effective than making them feel like they are part of the problem. Runaway and homeless youth programs should also provide ideas for other ways to get involved such as joining a local task force or hosting a community forum.
  4. Put yourself in their shoes. Public reputation matters in the hospitality industry, Guelbart says, so it helps to explain how anti-trafficking protocols can help hotels run more smoothly and reduce the chances of illegal activities occurring on site. The transportation industry includes many roles that don't require regular travel, Paris adds, so raising awareness can create a network of truck stop managers, waitresses and others who seek to improve their communities.

Primary Sources: How Do Teens and Young Adults Talk About Dating Violence?

Urban Teens and Young Adults Describe Drama, Disrespect, Dating Violence and Help-Seeking Preferences” (abstract). Caitlin Eileen Martin, Avril Melissa Houston, Kristin N. Mmari and Michele R. Decker. Maternal and Child Health Journal, Vol. 16, No. 5 (2012).

What it’s about: Researchers in Baltimore wanted to learn how African American youth want to be helped when it comes to preventing and ending dating violence. In four small focus groups, the researchers asked 13- to 24-year-olds to talk about what they consider dating abuse, who they would want to talk to about it and what qualities they would value in a resource center, if one existed. Researchers began each focus group session with a question about “relationship drama” to see if participants used the term consistently enough for it to be included in tools meant to identify teens in abusive relationships.

Why read it: Research shows that African American adolescents are more likely to experience dating abuse than their peers. Preventing and addressing relationship abuse can be difficult because many young people don't recognize acts of violence, coercion and control as signs of abuse. This small study delves into how young people define and talk about relationship violence. It also examines what young people want from adults and institutions that try to help them avoid--and get out of--violent relationships.

Biggest takeaway for family and youth workers: Many participants in the focus groups used “drama” and “disrespect” as euphemisms for acts of physical, emotional or verbal abuse. Others defined "drama" as everyday disagreements that didn’t necessarily escalate into violence. Because these words carry so many meanings, the authors write, youth and family service providers and anti-dating violence advocates should avoid using them in place of validated screening questions. Service providers should also ask youth to clarify what they mean by slang terms like “disrespect” and “crossing the line” instead of assuming one shared meaning.

Boys and young men in the focus groups expressed less interest in seeking help from community programs than did girls and young women. Still, most participants, no matter their gender, said they would want to know that a program was safe, confidential and non-judgmental before they showed up. The authors recommend that anti-teen dating violence programs prominently mention safety and empathy in their outreach efforts to help build their reputations through word of mouth.

Additional reference: We recently explored an Urban Institute study that associated cyber dating abuse, inflicted online or by cell phone, with other abusive dating behaviors.

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.)

Four Online Resources to Help You Prevent Teen Dating Violence

As Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month wraps up, it's a good time to familiarize yourself with resources that can help you educate and support teens and their parents and caregivers throughout the year. Here are four (well, really five) toolkits and webpages we find helpful:

1. "Teen Dating Violence: A Resource and Prevention Toolkit" (PDF, 446KB), from Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls

Explores how technology plays a key role in teen dating violence and offers tips for youth workers who work to prevent it or counsel victims.

2. "Health Cares About IPV: The Intimate Partner Violence Screening and Counseling Toolkit," from the National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence, a project of Futures Without Violence funded with a grant from the Family and Youth Services Bureau

Provides guidance on screening people to learn if they have experienced intimate partner violence, and on working with victims. Also explains Affordable Care Act policies regarding domestic and dating violence.

3. "Dating Violence 101," from Break the Cycle

A one-page primer on dating violence. Suitable for teens and adults.

4. "Dating Basics" and "Is This Abuse?" from

Resources to help teens learn what makes a relationship healthy and what constitutes abuse. "Is This Abuse?" includes the Teen Power and Control Wheel, which describes how abusive relationships work.

Q&A: The Urban Institute Surveys Teens About Digital Dating Abuse

Many youth, their families and youth workers are finding that harassment and abuse are happening more and more in the digital realm.

Recently, researchers from The Urban Institute surveyed 5,647 middle and high school students about unwelcome interactions via technology. Teens’ survey responses revealed that text messages, email and social media often take the place of, or are combined with, violent in-person behavior.

The National Institute of Justice–funded study, whose results were released last year in the report “Technology, Teen Dating Violence and Abuse, and Bullying,” found digital abuse to be pervasive: one in four dating teens reported digital abuse or harassment from a partner. More than that, the authors say digital abuse is a red flag for other types of teen dating violence experiences. Half of those who reported digital abuse also reported being physically abused by partners, and one-third reported sexual coercion.

We spoke with Janine M. Zweig, lead author of the study, about who is most at risk and what more can be done.

NCFY: Who did you find was most at risk of being involved in teen dating violence and why?

Zweig: We found that girls were more likely than boys to be victims of digital abuse from dating partners. And girls are twice as likely as boys to experience digital abuse of a sexual nature—sexually harassing contacts through technology. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth also report more digital abuse from dating partners than heterosexual youth. Why these youth are more vulnerable than others is not clear and requires longitudinal studies on these issues.

NCFY: What have you found are effective ways adults can help teens experiencing dating violence through technology?

Zweig: This study was not an evaluation of techniques to address dating violence through technology, so we cannot speak to effectiveness of particular strategies to address this. 

However, parents’ and children’s relationships will always come down to trust in each other. Parents need to be aware of what their kids are doing, but also give them the room they need to grow up. So we don’t advocate that parents monitor their kids’ social media profiles unbeknownst to them. But we do recommend opening a dialogue and reassuring kids of their unconditional love and support.

Parents should make it clear to their kids that they are concerned and interested in what’s going on in their lives. Parents could start a dialogue about abuse via technology and make their children aware of these issues. They can inquire about how their kids’ dating partners relate to them online and through their cell phones.

NCFY: You mention the need for more research. What do you hope further study would find?

Zweig: We need to study this issue over time in order to really understand the consequences of these experiences for youth.  We also need to find ways to encourage youth to seek help.  Only 9 percent of victims in our sample even told anyone about these experiences they were having. We need to understand what prevents youth from seeking help and what ways adults can encourage them to find help.

Primary Sources: How Can Communities Help Prevent Dating Violence?

Adolescent Dating Violence Prevention and Intervention in a Community Setting: Perspectives of Young Adults and Professionals” (PDF, 127KB). The Qualitative Report, Vol. 17, No. 99 (2012).

What it’s about: The authors of this study assert that dating violence is a "community issue" best addressed through an "ecological" approach--one that views young people within the context of their families, schools and communities. To better understand what makes for a successful community-based treatment, they interviewed 88 young people, ages 18 to 21, who had experienced dating violence, as well as 20 youth-work professionals who work with teen victims of relationship abuse. Rather than looking at a specific intervention, the authors sought insights into what ideal adolescent dating violence prevention programs might look like.

Why read it: Ecological or “milieu” models of care have grown more popular in recent years as family and youth workers and researchers recognize the impact of communities on the lives of individual young people. This study points to ways such models could be improved.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The researchers asked participants what they thought of their community's response to teen dating violence, what prevention and intervention programs are available, and what ideal programs might look like. On the whole, youth and professionals said much needs to be done to bolster their communities' responses to dating violence. Young people said most community members remain “blind” to the issue. The researchers note that anti-dating violence resources are “unavailable, inappropriate or helpful but impersonal.”

Given all of that, what would be an ideal community response to dating violence? Youth said the response should

  • be led by professionals who listen carefully to teens without criticizing them or telling them what to do;
  • allow youth to move at their own pace when dealing with or ending violent dating relationships; and
  • provide options for help rather than firm directions. (One youth said, “Get us help. Don’t force it down our throats. We get told what to do 24 hours a day.”)

For their part, Martsoff, Colbert, and Drauker say an ideal program would be free for young people, appeal to African American teen boys, who are often ignored in anti-teen dating violence efforts, and occur in comfortable small groups.

Additional references: is devoted to curbing dating violence among teens, and they compile many statistics on the topic. Learn more about ecological or developmental systems theory in "Research to Practice: Making Developmental Systems Theory Work for You." We've written about several evidence-based milieu treatments, such as the CARE model and Sanctuary model.

(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.)

Right on the Money: Four Ingredients to Hiring an Effective Development Director

According to a recent study by nonprofit consulting group CompassPoint, nonprofit organizations face several obstacles to financial sustainability: high turnover in fundraising positions, a dearth of qualified candidates for those jobs, and the lack of a clear “fundraising culture” that incorporates the entire organization beyond one person.

The common element in these challenges is staffing, specifically the difficulty in finding and nurturing an effective fundraising or development director.

NCFY asked Marla Cornelius, senior project director at CompassPoint and co-author of “UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising,” to talk about how youth- and family-serving nonprofits can recruit great chief fundraisers. She offered four main pieces of advice:

1. Look for expertise. Cornelius warns against hiring a candidate just because they are passionate about your organization’s mission.

“If you’re hiring a development director, a manager who is truly a director, you want someone who is quite skilled at the techniques,” she says. “There’s no excuse to not have expertise in this profession, because it is a profession.”

Cornelius recommends that hiring teams familiarize themselves with CFRE International, which certifies fundraising executives and standardizes their ethics and knowledge.

“Of course professionalism shouldn’t come at the expense of the other components—culture fit, mission fit, team fit—but they should be in balance,” she says.

2. Embrace fundraising as essential, not a necessary evil. Cornelius stresses that financially sustainable programs think of money-raising as essential to services rather than ancillary to it.

“What we see often [at CompassPoint] is that fundraising is thought of as a tactical thing rather than a central mission of the organization,” she says. “There’s a conception of program staff vs. fundraising, and that’s the shift we need to make: stop siloing. We have to be much more integrated in our work or we’ll stay in this vicious cycle” of turnover and fiscal instability.

Downplaying the importance of fundraising can create friction among staff, as well.

“We transfer how we feel about the act of fundraising to how we feel about the person,” says Cornelius, who interviewed many development directors who felt disrespected by staff and boards. “There was an attitude of, ‘You just spend all day raising money, rubbing elbows’” that contributed to the high turnover that CompassPoint observed among fundraising directors.

3. Know where the person will fit. Many organizations place fundraising all on one person’s shoulders. To help a director of development be as successful as possible, Cornelius says organizations should ask themselves a few questions before hiring: Who in the staff will collaborate with this person? Is this position being championed within the company? Do we have a database and good communication and marketing materials to help them get started?

4. Embrace the need for improvement. If your fundraising requires ground-up rethinking, Cornelius says it’s okay to tell an applicant, “We’re excited to have you change this for us. We want you to lead and help us make this shift.”

“If you’re the first development director that helps an organization shift from a shaky financial foundation to a healthy one,” she says, “you’ll feel proud and connected to that organization for a long time.”

Research Roundup: Friends and Caregivers Help Young People Avoid, Recover From Violence

Teen dating violence and violent behavior can have a lasting negative impact on young people, research shows. Recent studies from the University of Baltimore, University of Colorado and University of Washington suggest that young people’s parents and peers can help prevent them from being violent. Caregivers and friends can also help young people bounce back if they have experienced or witnessed violence.

Creating an Emotional Buffer Zone

Young people who get emotional support from their parents and peers will have higher self-esteem than others in the face of dating violence. Tara N. Richards and Kathryn A. Branch from the University of Baltimore and University of Tampa studied 198 young women from the Toledo Adolescent Relationship Study who had experienced dating violence, either emotional, physical or both. The researchers learned that having supportive parents and friends protected youth against low self-esteem, though not against depression or unhealthy weight-control behaviors.

The researchers suggest that programs aimed at preventing dating violence or assisting its victims integrate the support of family and peers. Still, the authors say that more detailed study is needed on whether youth’s peers were victims or perpetrators of violence themselves.

Prosocial Parental Influence

Research shows that young people who are exposed to domestic violence at home are at higher risk for teen dating violence. But few studies have included young people who were involved in the child welfare system. Edward F. Garrido and Heather N. Taussig from the University of Colorado sought to fill this gap on teen dating violence among foster youth.

The authors studied 41 teens who had been maltreated at home and placed in out-of-home care. The young people reported their exposure to violence, experience of teen dating violence and positive peer relationships. They also reported whether their peers had been involved in dating violence, either as victims or as perpetrators. Caregivers reported on their parenting practices.

The study showed that while exposure to intimate partner violence does increase the risk of teen dating violence, young people who have positive relationships with caregivers and peers are less likely to be a victim or perpetrator of teen dating violence. Young people whose peers are involved in dating violence are more likely to be involved themselves, but this likelihood is reduced when caregivers have positive parenting practices.

Violence Doesn’t Discriminate

Racial disparities in dating violence have been documented by some researchers. Kevin P. Haggerty and others from the University of Washington, wanted to see whether other differences, such as income, families and peers, reduced or increased those disparities. They studied 331 8th to 10th graders from Seattle, WA. Of these young people, 163 were African American and 168 were white.

Young people from lower income families were slightly more likely to engage in violent behavior, but income-level was not as influential as peer and family relationships. In this study, race was not a factor. The authors learned that both African American and white young people whose friends were violent or had trouble in school were more likely to engage in violence themselves. They also write that positive relationships with parents helped prevent young people from being violent, even when their peer relationships were not positive.

Read the Articles

Examining Parental and Peer Social Support as a Buffer Between Dating Violence Victimization and Negative Outcomes Among Female Adolescents” (abstract). Women & Criminal Justice, Vol. 23, No. 3 (July-September 2013).

Do Parenting Practices and Prosocial Peers Moderate the Association Between Intimate Partner Violence Exposure and Teen Dating Violence?” (abstract). Psychology of Violence, Vol. 3, No. 4 (October 2013).

Parent and Peer Predictors of Violent Behavior of Black and White Teens” (abstract). Violence and Victims, Vol. 28, No. 1 (2013).

(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.)

#NCFYchat Addresses Youth Homelessness and Trafficking, 140 Characters at a Time

On January 30, runaway and homeless youth providers, anti-trafficking experts and other youth advocates logged into Twitter for a #NCFYchat called "Youth Homelessness and Sex Trafficking: Making the Connection." The Family and Youth Services Bureau's Associate Commissioner Bill Bentley kicked off the event with a short introduction. Then co-hosts Covenant House International discussed their recent research on homelessness, survival sex and trafficking in their New York shelter before fielding questions on topics ranging from trauma to gender.

As in past Twitter chats, the open format encouraged individual participants and national experts like Shared Hope International and ECPAT-USA to chime in with their thoughts and suggestions.

Couldn't make it to last month's event? Then check out some of the top tweets below. You can also read the full text of the chat by logging into Twitter and searching for #NCFYchat.

On factors that increase runaway and homeless youths' odds of being trafficked:

On providing services to boys and young men who experience commercial sexual exploitation:

On resources available to runaway and homeless youth providers:

Meet Sarah Rosenberg, NCFY’s Librarian

Sarah Rosenberg reads a lot. As NCFY’s librarian and managing editor of research products, she oversees the collection and cataloging of nearly 1,000 journal articles, reports, white papers and more each and every year.

Sarah received her MPH in Community Health Education from San Francisco State University, where she learned how to home in on reputable, rigorous research. Her 5-plus years at NCFY have given her a good handle on what information youth and family services professionals need and how to make it accessible and engaging.

Sarah makes sure that the clearinghouse library represents a wide range of perspectives on the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s programmatic areas of youth homelessness, adolescent pregnancy prevention and family violence prevention and services. For example, she looks for literature that addresses

  • interventions that target young men in pregnancy prevention
  • lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-conforming youth
  • substance use, sex trafficking and other factors that can compound the problems of youth experiencing homelessness, teen pregnancy and parenthood, and relationship violence
  • research on the experiences of Native American youth and other youth of color and on cultural considerations in program design and implementation

What the Library Can Do for You

Sarah encourages youth and family services professionals to search the NCFY catalog, then obtain documents from the original publisher or a research library. She says the documents we collect can help you

  • stay abreast of the latest research on the various factors that put young people at risk or make them more resilient
  • find evidence-based practices and assessment tools that fit your programs and the populations you serve
  • convince grant-makers of the need for programs like yours

Take a virtual trip to the NCFY library, read our research summaries and interviews with experts, and, as always, send your suggestions, questions and comments to


Subscribe to National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth RSS
9-5 pm Eastern