Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara Specialist in Social Policy
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 20th 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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