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Friday, February 1, 2013

Runaway and Homeless Youth: Demographics and Programs



Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

There is no single definition of the terms “runaway youth” or “homeless youth.” However, both groups of youth share the risk of not having adequate shelter and other provisions, and may engage in harmful behaviors while away from a permanent home. These two groups also include “thrownaway” youth who are asked to leave their homes, and may include other vulnerable youth populations, such as current and former foster youth and youth with mental health or other issues.

Youth most often cite family conflict as the major reason for their homelessness or episodes of running away. A youth’s relationship with a step-parent, sexual activity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, school problems, and alcohol and drug use are strong predictors of family discord. The precise number of homeless and runaway youth is unknown due to their residential mobility and overlap among the populations. Determining the number of these youth is further complicated by the lack of a standardized methodology for counting the population and inconsistent definitions of what it means to be homeless or a runaway. Estimates of the homeless youth exceed 1 million. Estimates of runaway youth—including “thrownaway” youth (youth asked to leave their homes)—are between 1 million and 1.7 million in a given year.

From the early 20
th century through the 1960s, the needs of runaway and homeless youth were handled locally through the child welfare agency, juvenile justice courts, or both. The 1970s marked a shift toward federal oversight of programs that help youth who had run afoul of the law, including those who committed status offenses (i.e., running away). In 1974, Congress passed the Runaway Youth Act of 1974 as Title III of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (P.L. 93-415) to assist runaways outside of the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Program (RHYP) has since been expanded through reauthorization laws enacted approximately every five years since the 1970s, most recently by the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act (P.L. 110-378) in 2008.

The RHYP currently authorizes federal funding for three programs—the Basic Center Program, Transitional Living Program, and Street Outreach Program. The Basic Center Program provides temporary shelter, counseling, and after care services to runaway and homeless youth under age 18 and their families. The BCP serves approximately 40,000 to 50,000 youth per year. The Transitional Living Program is targeted to older youth ages 16 through 22 (and sometimes an older age), and serves approximately 3,500 to 4,000 youth each year. Youth who use the TLP receive longer-term housing with supportive services. The Street Outreach Program provides education, treatment, counseling, and referrals for runaway, homeless, and street youth who have been subjected to or are at risk of being subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. Each year, the SOP makes hundreds of thousands of contacts with street youth (some of whom have multiple contacts). Related services authorized by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act include a national communication system to facilitate communication between service providers, runaway youth, and their families; training and technical support for grantees; and evaluations of the programs, among other activities. The 2008 reauthorizing legislation expanded the program, requiring HHS to conduct an incidence and prevalence study of runaway and homeless youth.

In addition to the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, other federal programs support runaway and homeless youth. Assistance can be provided through the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, discretionary grants for family violence prevention, and the Chafee Foster Care Independent Living program for foster youth.



Date of Report: January 15, 2013
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: RL33785
Price: $29.95

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