Helping Youth Find Their Way Home

National Runaway Safeline Partnership Uses Language Processing & Social Media Data to Improve Services

The National Runaway Safeline (NRS) gets roughly 30,000 calls per year from youth who are considering running away or are at risk of becoming homeless, or people concerned for a youth’s wellbeing. Conflict at home, isolation at school and mental health issues are just some of the reasons that lead callers to seek assistance and resource referrals. In 2019, NRS approached Chapin Hall to analyze data from their communication channels including the hotline, chat service, email, and interactive forum.

In 2020 alone, 432,000 people visited the NRS Forum where they could access information, resources, and get answers to their questions. Armed with the knowledge that the pandemic exacerbated mental health issues for youth, Chapin Hall Senior Researcher Dr. Melissa Kull and her team, Researcher Dr. Kay Chansiri and Associate Policy Analyst Maddie Youngren, are now expanding their inquiry to identify trends in communications with clients so NRS frontline staff can use the information to help more young people remain at home or get to a safe environment. This work involves exploring who reaches out to NRS, why they reach out, and what types of supports they receive.

The team is also reviewing the Home Free program, a partnership with Greyhound Lines, Inc. that provides a free bus ticket so youth can return home or to an alternative safe living arrangement. NRS has tasked Kull and her team with looking for reasons why many young people or their guardians initiate but do not complete the Home Free program. Kull and her team will use natural language processing (a computer program that is able to comprehend written and spoken language) which will allow them to analyze text data from the chat service in order to glean more information on why youth aren’t taking advantage of Home Free.

Kull and her team will also analyze social media interactions on NRS handles on various platforms to map when clients are most actively engaged. This could potentially allow NRS to be even more strategic regarding messaging and help them to reach more youth in need.

Kull’s educational background in education, developmental psychology, and epidemiology and experience using large data sets in city and state government make her a natural fit to lead the NRS assessment. Her research focus on evidence-based prevention of homelessness and her expertise contribute to both Chapin Hall’s ability to tackle this persistent social issue and its reputation for leadership and enterprising solutions for children, youth, and families experiencing housing instability and homelessness.

For more information about this project, please contact Dr. Melissa Kull.