|I knew at that point my daughter had runaway!|
I won't go into the details of why my daughter thought she needed to leave home, but I will say that we eventually worked out all our differences. Personally, her leaving was one of the toughest moments I ever had to face. I was worried about everything: her sleeping arrangements, her ability to get food, medical care, her college education, and her safety. Fortunately, the school she enrolled into, as an independent student, had some excellent school counselors. Her counselor was willing to speak to me on the phone about my rights as a parent, her rights as a student, and protections for students considered as couch surfers (moving from house to house) or homeless.
While I was trying to decide if I would have my daughter arrested, I had to make the choice to charge the adult, where she was living, as harboring a teen. In many states, landlords, other minors, and other parents can be charged with a misdemeanor for knowingly
|No personal connection...random picture|
And so, my daughter stayed at another family's house while I tried to carry on. My mind was consistently thinking about her, I could not sleep at night, I was moody, and I had to fight the desire to go get her. The person that really helped me to think logically was my daughter's school counselor. She provided me with academic
|Listening is very powerful!|
The Problem of Runaway Youth
How bad is the teen runaway issue? Okay, honestly it is really bad. According to the Congressional Research Service, who provides statistics on runaway and homeless youth, between 1 million to 1.7 million youth between the ages of 12-17 leave home per year. The National Congress of State Legislatures breaks down the statistics further:
- One in seven youth between the ages of 10 and 18 leave home;
- Students age 12 to 17 are more at risk for homelessness than adults;
- Most runaways are females (75%);
- At least six 6 to 22 percent of homeless females are pregnant;
- Between 20 to 40 percent of runaways are LGBTQ;
- A large number of runaways are abused;
- 75 percent of students who runaway will drop out of school.
Dangers for Teen Runaways
Once a teen leaves home, there are many issues and dangers he or she may face. Some of these problems, according to the National Congress of State Legislatures, include:
- Developing or continuing at risk behaviors like drug use, multiple sex partners, and unprotected sex. These behaviors can continue a teen's descent into homelessness;
- Poor physical and mental health like malnutrition, dental problems, mental health problems, and even suicide;
- Becoming involved in the sex trafficking industry;
- Engaging in "survival sex". According to Newsweek Magazine, survival sex includes trading sex for items like food, clothing, and shelter. In a study conducted among homeless teens in New York City, LGBQT teens engaged in survival sex seven times more likely than heterosexual teens;
- Selling illegal drugs and substances to survive;
- Failure to complete their high school education due to difficulties in attending school. Some of the greatest difficulties for students to attend school includes their inability to prove residency, provide immunization documents, or other needed documentation.
As school counselors, we are in an unique position to help students who are considering or may have decided to runaway from home. Last year, I decided to put together a teen runaway kit and place it in our lobby area. This year, I have decided to create more and put them in areas where teens hangout in our community. If you decide to create your own kit, here are some materials they may be useful.
- Create and provide a brochure about what unaccompanied youth need to know. Check out this brochure from Fairfax County Schools.
- When teens are thinking about running away, provide them with the National Runaway Safeline.
- Give them a resource of how to get help when in a crisis no matter where they are - National Safe Place Text 4 Help
- Provide them information about how they can receive SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program services as a homeless youth. According to the National Association for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth, unaccompanied youth can receive food stamps without a parent’s or guardian’s signature.
However, in many SNAP
offices are not aware of the law that allows youth under 18 to receive these benefits and may
deny youth under 18. The support of a school counselor may be tremendously helpful!
- Give them information about how to get home. Greyhound bus lines provides free bus passes for students who are trying to get home. Share the 1-800-RUNAWAY number with the teens.
Random fact...did you know the song Runaway was about Bon Jovi watching runaways getting off the Greyhound bus.
- Share a text code for students who want to escape sex trafficking - text HELP or Info to Text: BeFree.
- Include information about state laws and moving out at 17.
- Provide information about the McKinney-Vento Act so teens understand their rights under the law.
In addition to providing information, there are other ways as school counselors can assist students:
Educating yourself and providing information for runaway and homeless. One great resource is the NAEHCY Toolkit kit.
This is an amazing toolkit which includes information regarding enrolling homeless students, duties of schools in reporting runaways, McKinney-Vento checklist for school counselors, how to obtain college waivers for homeless students, how to get food stamps, medicaid, and much more.
Assist in the college admission process. Check out the NAEHCY College Access and Success Toolkit. This toolkit includes information and resources for choosing a college, financial aid, college preparation programs (like TRIO and Upward Bound), checklists, and much more!
Finally if you need additional information about conferences, free materials, and other resources, I have provided a list for you below.
ConferencesNational Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth Conference
Runaway and Homeless Youth 2015 Conference
CurriculumRunaway Prevention Curriculum
Free LGBTQ Runaway Poster
Safe School Coalition - Information on LGBTQ Youth
MediaNAEHCY Educational Podcasts about Homeless Youth
Suggested Media About Runaways
PostersFree Downloaded Runaway Poster
ResearchResearch on Homeless Youth
Resources by State for Homeless and Runaway Youth
Federal Resources for Feeding Homeless Students
Sex TraffickingSex Trafficking in Americas Schools: Information for Educators
Human Trafficking Fact Sheet for Schools
Sex Trafficking Assessment for Educators
Tool KitsRunaway and Homeless Youth Domestic Violence Toolkit
Runaway Youth Toolkit for Schools