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Why They Run presented by the National Runaway Switchboard
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Why They Run presented by the National Runaway Switchboard

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Why They Run: An in-depth look at America’s runaway youth, presented by the National Runaway Switchboard, sheds new light on the runaway problem in America and begins to fill in the gaps of what is …

Why They Run: An in-depth look at America’s runaway youth, presented by the National Runaway Switchboard, sheds new light on the runaway problem in America and begins to fill in the gaps of what is already known and what can be done based on new research.

Why They Run is comprised of research from three main sources: 1) existing research and reports, 2) NRS Crisis Caller Trends report (April 2010), and 3) new research conducted with youth between ages 14-17 on the street and in shelters (in Chicago and Los Angeles), which was implemented by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), a social science research organization affiliated with the University of Chicago. Below are key findings from the new research from the NORC study.

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  • 1.  Why They Run: An in-depth look at America’s runaway youth, presented by the National Runaway Switchboard, sheds new light on the runaway problem in America and begins to fill in the gaps of what is already known and what can be done based on new research.  Why the report is critically important: ◦ To jumpstart new dialogue and collaborate on finding and implementing strategies that reverse the runaway trend. ◦ To explore ways of reaching youth that are real, relevant and capable of scaling the walls they have put up for protection and survival.
  • 2.  Why They Run is comprised of a three-prong research approach: ◦ First, it examines an existing body of research and reports from which to expand upon. ◦ Second, Why They Run points to the National Runaway Switchboard’s Crisis Caller Trends report (April 2010) that analyzed records of crisis calls to 1-800-RUNAWAY for the 10- year period spanning 2000-2009. ◦ The final component is the new research conducted with youth between ages 14-17 on the street and in shelters (combined sample includes 83 youth, 40 in Chicago and 43 in Los Angeles), which was implemented by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), a social science research organization affiliated with the University of Chicago.
  • 3.  It is the estimated that between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth experience a runaway/throwaway episode annually.  Family dynamics (divorce, remarriage, problems with siblings), is top reason cited by 29 percent of NRS crisis callers in 2009.  From 2001-2009, there has been an increase of more than 494 percent in NRS crisis calls that cite the economy as a problem.
  • 4. 120% 100% 80% 60% 40% 2008-2009 20% 2006-2009 2000-2009 0% -20% -40%
  • 5. Who Runs & Means of Survival  According to Hammer, Finkelhor and Sedlak (2002), runaway youth are 50 percent male and 50 percent female, though females are more likely to seek help through shelters and hotlines than males.  Youth rely on friends and relatives for basic needs more so than any other means of survival.  Although the percentages in contrast are low, the percentage increase since 2000 is notable: panhandling (228 percent), the sex industry (58 percent), selling drugs (54 percent) stealing (22 percent).
  • 6. 250% 200% 150% 100% 50% 2008-2009 2006-2009 2000-2009 0% -50% -100%
  • 7. “One in five youth run away before reaching age 18, and half run away two or more times.” Pergamit, Michael R. “On the Lifetime Prevalence of Running Away from Home,” Urban Institute Research Brief
  • 8.  More than 70 percent of youth interviewed described their leaving home as occurring on the spur of the moment.  Thirty-six percent who ran said they planned it in advance, while 23 percent who were thrown out said they expected to be thrown out and planned to run anyway.  Fifty-six percent of youth who said they ran away also said that someone else knew they were planning to run away.
  • 9. Means reportedly ranged from getting a job, obtaining money from friends or family, the sex industry, selling drugs or some other source. Nearly 35 percent of youth resorted to panhandling, the single-most popular means of obtaining money. 60% 50% 40% 30% shelter street 20% 10% 0% Has a job Pandhandles Gets money Gets money Receives Sells drugs Sex industry Gets money from friends from family social security from other check source
  • 10.  Nearly 54 percent of youth who go to a shelter do so because they have run out of places to stay or are just tired of being on their own.  Only 15 percent of interviewed youth reported finding their way to a shelter on their own.
  • 11.  Who knew where youth was while away from home? 70% 59.0% 60% 50% 40% 30% 26.5% 25.3% 25.3% 22.9% 19.3% 20% 13.0% 13.2% 10% 3.6% 0%
  • 12. Cell phones  Fifty-eight percent of youth had access to a cell phone at least some of the time, and 20 percent had their own phone.  Two-thirds of street youth report having cell phone access some of the time.  Cell phone access increases with age. More than one-third of 14- and 15-year olds report having access; 60 percent of 16-year olds, and 63 percent of 17-year olds.
  • 13. E-mail  Seventy-one percent of youth report having access to e-mail.  Of those with access, 73 percent access e- mail at least once a week and 34 percent access e-mail daily.  Youth obtain access via school, public libraries, shelters, drop-in centers or a friend’s home.
  • 14. Social networking sites  Seventy-five percent of youth have a MySpace account and 22 percent have an account on Facebook; all but one Facebook user also had a MySpace account.  More than half access their account weekly, with social networking sites being accessed somewhat less frequently than e-mail.
  • 15.  Despite the proliferation of new communication technology, youth overwhelmingly preferred to talk directly via telephone instead of e-mail and text messaging when seeking help.  Nearly 80 percent wanted to talk to a person to determine if that person sounded like they really intended to be helpful, and if they sounded honest and trustworthy.  Youth felt that e-mail was not direct enough and they would have to wait for a response, and e-mail and texting would not convey urgency or their needs effectively. E-mail requires computer access but phones are more readily accessible.
  • 16. Would youth prefer phone, email, or text messaging? 90% 79.2% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10.4% 9.1% 10% 1.3% 0% Phone E-mail Text messaging Youth says it doesn't matter
  • 17. There is no substitute for live communication.  Whether via a hotline, in person at a shelter, or dropping in at any health or social service provider, honesty, trust and a sincere desire to help is what youth are seeking. Address the root problems, diffuse the runaway problem.  The problem may be symptomatic – or it may be the parent/guardian. Parents may need help just as much as youth do (either they need support when dealing with their child and their situation, or they need help dealing with their own issues, e.g., drug abuse, etc.) Heighten awareness by expanding reach, leveraging resources.  More partnerships, better strategic funding, faster solutions. This, in turn, can lead to the greater awareness that is needed.
  • 18. Message received: incremental change starts now.  Communicating with runaway and at-risk youth requires a dialogue instead of a monologue.  The message must speak to them – not at them. And it must reach them where they are, before the crisis occurs as well as after they leave home. More research is needed with runaway youth to close the knowledge gap.  This report only begins to shed light on why youth run, yet the small sample provided in these pages gives valuable insight into their decision-making process to leave and rationale youth arrive at for electing to use or decline available services.  Additional research is needed to paint a clearer picture, identify trends in behavior and ultimately provide solutions that reverse America’s growing runaway crisis.
  • 19. For questions or comments on this research please contact Katy Walsh, Director of Development and Communication at the National Runaway Switchboard at kwalsh@1800RUNAWAY.org, or (773) 289-1727. Media interested in additional information or to schedule an interview with an NRS spokesperson, please contact Joel Kessel at joel@kesselcommunications.com, or (614) 467-9083.

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