Youth Who Run Away From Out-Of-Home Care
The largest study of its kind to examine children and youth who run away from out-of-home care indicates that the likelihood of youth running away from care in Illinois increased significantly starting in the mid-1990s, and that most of the increase is a result of youth who run more than once from the child welfare system. Moves from one placement to another in the child welfare system significantly increased the risk that a youth would run.
The plight of adolescents who run away from out-of-home care has received increasing attention in recent years. Chapin Hall has conducted the largest study to date of this population, including analysis of government administrative data on more than 14,000 youths who ran away from out-of-home care in a 10-year period between 1993 and 2003, as well as interviews with 42 youth who had recently run away and returned to care. Foster parents and child welfare professionals were also interviewed. This report focuses on trends in runaway behavior over time, the characteristics of runaways, and their self-reported reasons for running. It shows that the likelihood that an individual youth would run away increased significantly starting in the late 1990s, doubling by 2003 largely as a result of an increase in chronic runaway behavior. A variety of factors were found to be associated with the likelihood that youth would run including: youth age, race, gender, mental illness, substance abuse, and developmental disability; placement instability; type of out-of-home placement; and the presence of a youth's sibling in the home. The report identifies three common themes related to the running experiences of youth: the role of family in many youth's decision to run, the role of the struggle for autonomy and normalcy, and the crucial role of caseworkers, caregivers, and other professionals.
The Issue Brief summarizes the findings of the larger report and presents recommendations for changes in child welfare practice that might reduce the likelihood that youth will run away from out-of-home care.