Youth Who Run Away from Substitute Care

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Youth Who Run Away
from Substitute Care
MARK COURTNEY
ADA SKYLES
GINA MIRANDA
ANDREW ZINN
EBONI HOWARD
ROBERT GOERGE
2005
Chapin Hall
Working Paper
©2005 Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago
Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago
1313 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
773-753-5900 (phone) 773-753-5940 (fax)
www.chapinhall.org
CS-114
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The Principal Investigators for this project were Mark Courtney and Robert Goerge, and a
number of people were responsible for writing this report. Mark Courtney, Andrew Zinn, Lucy
Bilaver, and Joseph West contributed to the quantitative section. The authors of the qualitative
section were Gina Miranda, Ada Skyles, Eboni Howard, and Andrea Nesmith. Susan Mayer and
Jenn Tobin managed the collection and processing of the qualitative data.
All the authors wish to express their gratitude to the Illinois Department of Children and
Family Services for its support of this study, which made possible the analysis of existing
administrative data and the collection of interview data from youth and key informants. This
report, however, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department. Special appreciation is
extended to Kathy Edin, who provided valuable methodological consultation on this project.
Special thanks are due to the foster parents and key informants who, through years of
working with and caring for youth, shared their opinions with candor and empathic wisdom.
Most importantly, we would like to acknowledge the youth who agreed to participate in this
research project. In sharing their stories, they have made an important and unique contribution to
helping us all expand and deepen our understanding of their experiences in substitute care.
The project team is indebted to our interviewers—Jolynne Andal, LaShaun Brooks,
Melissa Shick, and Sherri Terao—who made numerous calls and contacts in order to obtain these
valuable stories. We are grateful for their diligence and sustained enthusiasm in this project. A
number of colleagues at Chapin Hall made important contributions to this report: John Fanning
and Ava Bromberg provided tireless administrative and organizational support. Allison Harris
developed the literature review and Kristy Beachy-Quick helped with the qualitative analysis.
Finally, we thank Anne Clary for her editing and organizational skills.
i
Contents
Page
Introduction .................................................................................................................................... 1
A Review of Existing Literature .................................................................................................... 3
Scope of the Problem ................................................................................................... 5
Individual Factors......................................................................................................... 7
Family of Origin........................................................................................................... 9
Placement Factors ........................................................................................................ 9
The Quantitative Study: Prevalence and Risk Factors .................................................................. 13
Methods and Sample ................................................................................................... 13
Characteristics of Runaway Youth.............................................................................. 13
Changes in the Likelihood of Runaway over the Course of Care .............................. 21
Multivariate Analysis of Predictors of the First Runaway Event................................ 27
Key Findings from the Quantitative Analysis............................................................. 38
Qualitative Study: Youth Voices .................................................................................................. 41
Methodology .............................................................................................................. 41
Who Are the Young People? ...................................................................................... 41
What the Young People Told Us: Recurring Themes ................................................ 44
Analyzing the Narratives: Revealing Patterns .......................................................... 54
Toward Adulthood with Resilience and Hope .......................................................... 70
References .................................................................................................................................... 73
Appendix A: Selected Research Pertaining to Running Away from Foster Care ...................... A-1
Appendix B: Sampling, Data Collection, and Data Analysis Methodologies
for the Qualitative Study ........................................................................................ B-1
Sample Selection ....................................................................................................... B-1
Data Collection.......................................................................................................... B-5
Data Analysis ............................................................................................................ B-6
Appendix C: Foster Youth Interview Protocol ........................................................................... C-1
Appendix D: Youth Experiences ................................................................................................ D-1
List of Tables and Figures
Table 1. Total Number of Runaway Youth, 1993-2003, by Gender, Race, and Number of Runs14
Table 2. Total Number of Youth Ages 12-18 Who Ran at Least Once ........................................ 15
Table 3. Age at Entry to Care of Youth Who Ran for the First Time Between 12 and 18 ........... 15
Table 4. Total Number of Youth that Begin First Run, by Fiscal Year ........................................ 16
Table 5: Total Number of Runs per Care Year for Youth Ages 12 to 18 in Out-of-Home Care.. 16
Table 6. Percentage of Youth that Begin First Run, by Month of Run......................................... 17
Table 7. Number of Weeks Youth Spend Away from Care Following First Run, by Age ......... 18
Table 8. Pre- and Post- Placements of First, Second, and Third Run Events from Home of
Relative, Foster Care, and Residential Care, 1993 through 2003 ............................... 20
Figure 1. Conditional Probability of First Run Event over 2 Years.............................................. 22
Figure 2. Conditional Probability of First Run Event over 4 Years.............................................. 23
ii
Figure 3. Conditional Probability of First, Second, and Third Run Events over 2 Years ............ 24
Figure 4. Conditional Probability of First Run Event, by Age Group over 1 Year ...................... 25
Figure 5. Conditional Probability of First Run Event, by Age at Entry over 4 Years .................. 25
Figure 6. Conditional Probability of First Run Event, by Gender over 1 Year ............................ 26
Figure 7. Conditional Probability of First Run Event, by Race/Ethnicity over 1 Year ................ 27
Table 9. Likelihood of First and Subsequent Runs from Substitute Care..................................... 34-36
Table 10. Distribution of Risk Factors among Runaways ............................................................ 37
Figure 8. Rate of Subsequent Runs by Risk Factor Level ............................................................ 38
Table 11. Traumatic Experiences.................................................................................................. 43
Table 12. Participation in or Exposure to Risky Situations Reported by Youth While on Run ... 44
Table B.1. Runaway Study Populations...................................................................................... B-2
Table B.2. Runaway Interview Sample....................................................................................... B-3
Table B.3. Runaway Interview Pool ........................................................................................... B-3
Table B.4. Key Informant Affiliation.......................................................................................... B-4
Table D.1. Qualitative Sample Individual and Placement Characteristics Reported by Youth.. D-1
Table D.2. Runaway History Reported by Youth ....................................................................... D-2
Figure D.1. Distribution of Youth Respondents' Age at Time of Interview ............................... D-3
Figure D.2. Distribution of Age at Removal Reported by Youth ............................................... D-3
Figure D.3. Distribution of the Number of Placements Reported by Youth............................... D-4
Figure D.4. Distribution of the Number of Days on Run Reported by Youth ............................ D-4
Figure D.5. Distribution of the Number of Days on Run Reported by Youth ............................ D-5
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INTRODUCTION
Youth who run away from substitute care risk the hazards of the street and the hazards they may
encounter if they return to their families or communities of origin. Child welfare agencies
nationwide struggle to identify risk factors and develop programs to deter youth from running
away from substitute care placements and to find them when they do. In Illinois in the last 10
years, approximately 14,000 children ran away from their placements. In Midwest Evaluation of
the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, Courtney, Terao, and Bost (2004) interviewed
474 Illinois 17-year-olds in out-of-home care. Over 52 percent reported having run away from
home at least once; of these, two-thirds report more than one run.
The purpose of this study is to explore the antecedents and consequences of running away
from substitute care. We use administrative and qualitative data as part of a mixed-method
approach to describe the incidence of running away, and the characteristics, risk factors, and
experiences of youth who ran away from substitute care in Illinois. No other U.S. study of
runaways from substitute care has used both administrative and qualitative data, together, to
understand the experiences of runaway youth.
First, we provide a review of the sparse literature on the subject of runaway. This section
is followed by two sets of findings—quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative portion of this
study used administrative data to describe the prevalence of running away from out-of-home care
and the characteristics and experiences of youth who ran away from substitute care in Illinois
during calendar years 1993 through 2003. We examine the conditional probability over time that
youth will run away from substitute care, and we explore the effect that a number of factors
(such as age, gender, and placement type) may exert on that probability. The qualitative portion
of the study, which was based on interviews with youth, foster parents, and the professionals
who work with them, suggests the motivations that may drive youth to run away and their
1
experiences while on the run. Whenever possible, we have made use of quotations from the
interviews, allowing youth to speak for themselves about the causes and consequences of their
runs.
2
A REVIEW OF EXISTING LITERATURE
The act of running away is relatively common, with estimates that one in eight youth have run
from home at least one time in adolescence (Whitbeck & Simons, 1990). However common it
may be, running away puts youth at serious risk of victimization, sexual exploitation, substance
abuse, offending, and presence in places where criminal activity occurs (Biehal & Wade, 1999;
U.S. Department of Justice, 2002), and it has been found to be associated with a higher risk of
adult depression (Herman, 1984) and homelessness (Koegel, et al., 1995).
Youth in substitute care are particularly vulnerable, as they have already experienced a
disruption in living arrangements stemming, in the majority of cases, from documented abuse or
neglect. Nonetheless, data that help elucidate why foster youth run away from substitute care,
what distinguishes them from nonrunners, and what personal, family, and placement factors
predict running from substitute care are sparse (Nesmith, 2002).
Most studies that have examined data on runaways from substitute care clarify the scope
of the problem and offer descriptive information on which individual, family, and placement
factors may be associated with running away from care. A small set of studies also offers data on
why youth run.1 At the individual and family level, several factors are associated with a higher
risk of running, including gender, age, a pattern of running that began prior to foster care
placement, high family conflict, and the level of family involvement while in care (Biehal &
Wade, 2000; Miller, et al., 1990). Placement-related factors also appear to play a role in
influencing runaway behavior, including placement type, permanency plan, repeated foster care
spells, the warmth of the care environment, and the overall assessed quality of the caregivers
(Angenant, et al., 1991; Courtney & Barth, 1996; Nesmith, 2002). Finally, a scenario unique to
foster care runners is running away to home—that is, running from care to family or friends from
3
the neighborhood of origin. Running to home versus away from it alters the discourse and belies
the traditional perception of runaways.
A notable feature of the research literature on runaways from foster care is the proportion
of studies done outside the United States. Although running from foster care is now receiving
increased attention in the United States., the majority of past studies focusing on this topic or that
thought to ask about running from placement occurred in other countries (Angenant et al., 1991;
Biehal & Wade, 1999; English & English, 1999; Hartman, et al., 1987; Kufeldt & Nimmo, 1987;
Miller, et al., 1990). Naturally, there are differences in the policies and procedures governing
foster care as well as cultural nuances that distinguish the U.S. foster care system from others.
Nonetheless, these studies cannot be easily dismissed; there remains much to be learned from
this pioneering work that explored the dynamics of foster care runaways at a time when it was
given little attention in the United States.
Finally, despite the fact that a number of studies present descriptive statistics that outline
the typology of runaways as well as some more recent multivariate modeling intended to
delineate predictive factors, there is a dearth of qualitative work that gives voice to the youth
themselves to explain the more complex dynamics involved in their individual decisions to flee
their residences.
This review begins by presenting research that defines the parameters and scope of the
problem. From there, individual- and family-level factors related to running away from substitute
care found in the literature are discussed. Finally, this review summarizes the placement-level
factors that are associated with running.
4
A chart in Appendix A summarizes the research that we drew on in this review of literature.
4
Scope of the Problem
To determine the frequency of running from care, two approaches have typically been taken,
yielding results that cast a different light depending on the method. Studies that sampled youth
from the general runaway and homeless population in either shelters or streets tended to find a
small- to moderate-sized subset of youth who fled substitute care placements. On the other hand,
studies that began with youth already in placement and assessed how many ran reported different
results, with a larger proportion running away and running repeatedly from care. Both of these
lenses are valid and important in understanding the scope of the problem.
Youth in runaway shelters and on the streets are more accessible to researchers than
youth in the foster care system, which is reflected in the prevalence of research on these
populations. Some studies found as few as 3 percent of runaways who indicated they ran from
substitute care (Thompson, et al., 2000; Zimet, et al., 1995). Other studies have reported
percentages in the teens, as is the case with one study conducted across eight Southern states that
found that 18 percent of over 2,000 shelter youth ran from foster care (Kurtz, et al., 1991); 18
percent in a Seattle shelter (MacLean, et al., 1999); and 13 percent on streets and in shelters in
four Midwestern states (Whitbeck, et al., 1997). However, two Canadian studies found much
larger proportions, with 37 percent and 46 percent of runaways using shelters reporting that they
had run from substitute care, which may speak to a different system of care for these youth
(Hartman, et al., 1987; Kufeldt & Nimmo 1987).
When the sampling frame included only youth already in foster care, studies of foster
care populations in California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the United Kingdom
reported a higher range in the proportions: 23 percent to 71 percent of the youth ran or were
discharged as runners from substitute care (Biehal & Wade, 2000; Courtney & Barth, 1996;
5
Fasulo, et al., 2002; Nesmith, 2002). Although Courtney and Wong (1996) reported a smaller
percentage (6%), it should be noted they examined first exits from care among children of all
ages. Young children do not run away; a young child is not perceived as a runaway on the rare
occasion in which one leaves.
Youth who run appear to do so more than once. English and English (1999) found that
youth in their study ran away an average of three times, consistent with a mean number of runs
of 3.4 found by Fasulo, Mosely, and Leavey (2002). Looking at it another way, Nesmith (2002)
reported that of those who ran during their treatment foster care placement, 63 percent had a
history of running prior to placement and 41 percent of those same youth ran a second time
within the next 2 years while in care.
There is some evidence that youth who run most often return to friends and family.
Courtney and Barth’s (1996) study of 2,653 California foster care youth found that runaways
were most likely to have returned to the family of origin, and it suggested that many multiple
exits from care were lengthy running episodes and of these, most were actually unsuccessful
attempts at family reunification. Similarly, Fasulo, et al. (2002) found that 44 percent of
runaways returned to family, 39 percent ran to a friend, and 17 percent reported running to be
with family or friends in the community of origin. Finally, Biehal and Wade (2000), who studied
over 272 runaways from 32 British care settings, discovered such a large number of youth who
ran to be with family or friends (53%) that they grouped these youth separately from others in
their analyses.
It virtually goes without saying that youth on the run are at risk of a variety of hazardous
situations. It is well-documented that youth on the streets or in shelters are at an elevated risk of
sexual victimization and exploitation, drug use, falling prey to robberies and beatings, attempted
6
suicide, or becoming engaged in criminal behaviors (Booth, et al., 1999; Molnar, et al., 1998;
Simons & Whitbeck, 1991). Foster youth who run to family do not necessarily escape such risks,
given that they often have tenuous relations with their families or may rejoin a family that is
highly dysfunctional.
Individual Factors
Age and gender often surface as factors associated with running away. Courtney and Wong’s
(1996) longitudinal study of foster care exits among 8,625 California children found that the risk
of running was higher for older youth (ages 14-16) and for females. English and English (1999)
obtained similar results when analyzing administrative files of 65 youth: they found that females
(29%) ran with greater frequency than did males (6%). In an analysis of 147 runaways from
treatment foster care in Massachusetts, Fasulo, et al. (2002) reported that the odds of running
were three times greater for females than for males and were also greater for older youth. Biehal
and Wade (2000) found that two-thirds of the youth who ran away were between the ages of 13
and 15, and 17 percent of youth under 12 had at least one runaway episode, but they did not find
any gender differences. Nesmith’s (2002) longitudinal study of 343 youth in treatment foster care
in the Midwest revealed similar results for age but not for gender. Older youth had greater odds
of running away, and gender had no effect until the cumulative impact of other risk factors was
examined.
Findings on the effect of race and ethnicity on runaway behavior were mixed. Nesmith
(2002) found that treatment foster care runners were significantly more likely to be Native
American than were nonrunners and less likely to be Caucasian. Native American youth were
twice as likely as Caucasian youth to run away, and Native American males were five times as
likely to run. On the other hand, Biehal and Wade (2000) found no differences in race/ethnicity
7
between runners and nonrunners. It may be that these variations reflect geographic differences in
the ethnic composition as well as economic and social status of racial groups.
Researchers have also explored the relationship between behavioral problems and
running away. Using the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist, higher externalizing scores were
correlated with running away from treatment foster care (Nesmith, 2002). In addition, English
and English (1999) reviewed case files of runaway youth and determined that youth who ran
away, compared with those who did not run, had a higher rate of involvement with juvenile
corrections, more problems in school, and more reported behavioral problems prior to running.
As noted earlier, once they have run once, youth often develop a pattern of running,
which in turn is a strong predictor of future runaway behavior, regardless of whether the previous
runs occurred in foster care or prior to placement. A history of running may increase the odds of
running from treatment foster care by as much as twofold (Nesmith, 2002). This relationship
held true for residential placements as well. Kashubeck, et al. (1994) sampled 100 runaway and
100 matched nonrunaway case files from an Iowa residential treatment center and discovered the
most powerful predictor was a history of running.
Biehal and Wade (2000) observed interesting differences in the characteristics of their
two categories of youth who ran to friends and family (“friends”) and who ran elsewhere
(“runners”). The “friends” group was older, more likely to run from foster homes, ran away
alone and stayed away longer, returned voluntarily, and were less likely to have committed legal
offenses while on the run. In contrast, the “runners” were younger, ran away more from
residential placements than foster homes, tended to run away with at least one other person, ran
away for a shorter period of time, and were more likely to have committed a legal offense while
away.
8
Family of Origin Factors
It seems reasonable that the characteristics of a child’s family of origin and the relationship
between the child and the family of origin might be associated with runaway behavior. However,
one must distinguish relevant family factors among runaways from the already abnormal, often
abusive or neglectful family circumstances within the general foster youth population. Research
efforts are further complicated by the fact that researchers often have limited access to the
biological family. Therefore, there is little information available on this important relationship
and virtually no research that yields information directly from the biological parents. Some
studies found that the youth’s family structure had an association with running once in
placement. For example, Kashubeck, et al. (1994) investigated runners and nonrunners from
residential treatment and discovered that runners were less likely to have lived in a two-parent
home prior to admission. Furthermore, runners were more likely than nonrunners to have had
both parents’ rights terminated. English and English (1999) reported that a significantly higher
percentage of youth who ran came from adoptive placements and divorced families. Nesmith
(2002) examined a similar though slightly different factor, the biological family’s investment in
the youth, as indicated by both their involvement in the treatment process and their expressed
interest in reunification, but did not find a significant relationship between this and running
away. Youth who were placed in substitute care for reasons other than abuse or neglect, such as
voluntary relinquishment of parental rights, were more likely to run away (Courtney & Wong,
1996).
Placement Factors
A number of placement-related factors have surfaced as possible players in understanding
running away from foster care, including type of placement, child’s permanency plan while in
9
care, reason for placement, number of out-of-home placements, and the quality of care received
in placement. Placement in a group home rather than a foster home was associated with a higher
likelihood of runaway (Courtney & Wong, 1996). Intuitively, this is not difficult to understand
when one considers some of the basic differences between group homes and family foster care,
including: a high ratio of youth to adults, a less familylike environment, rules that are less
individualized to youth personalities and needs, rotating staff, and a clientele who did not
succeed in family foster care, often due to behavior problems.
Permanency plan may also make a difference. Nesmith (2002) reported that a change in
permanency plan increased the odds of running by 70 percent, though no specific pattern of
change emerged as significant. Instability seems to increase running away, whether it is with
repeated foster care spells or a number of placement settings within a single spell (Courtney &
Barth, 1996; English & English, 1999). Finally, there is some evidence to suggest that the quality
of the placement environment in terms of the foster parents’ or staff’s warmth, responsiveness,
and respect toward the youth may help or hinder running behavior (Angenent, et al., 1991;
Nesmith, 2002). In the work of Angenent, et al. (1991), the group home staff openly
acknowledged treating the runaways with more coldness and more authority than the
nonrunaways. These authors concluded that the temporary nature of group home placement
along with the interruption that running away causes make it difficult for youth and staff to build
warm relationships.
There is very little longitudinal research that examines at what point in the placement a
youth is most likely to run. This information could be important in identifying how much time
there is to evaluate and intervene before a running incident occurs. Courtney and Wong’s data
(1996) demonstrated that the likelihood of running was greatest in the first few months in out-of10
home care, after which the risk dropped off and stabilized. This is also the pattern reported by
Fasulo, et al. (2002), who found that the majority (66%) of the youth who ran did so in the first 6
months of placement. Nesmith (2002), conversely, discovered that the risk of running increased
with the length of time spent in placement.
Perhaps the most conspicuous void in foster care runaway research is qualitative work
that turns to youth directly to share the intricacies and complexities of their experiences, in their
own words. Here, Biehal and Wade (1999, 2000) stand alone, and offer only insight on youth in
the English system of care. Nevertheless, their work sheds light on some factors not covered in
other research, such as the impact of a negative peer culture on running and group running, on
patterns of detachment that develop prior to placement and become entrenched over time, and
evolving rationales for runaway behavior. For example, after interviewing youth in depth, the
authors learned that youth ran when they were younger to either escape an unpleasant
environment or to return to the familiarity of their home neighborhood with friends or family. As
they aged, reticence over running declined with experience and detachment, and youth reported
they maintained the same runaway patterns, but now ran for pleasure rather than to or from
something in particular.
As described here, a youth in substitute care who runs away from his or her living
arrangement may do so for a variety of individual, family, and placement-related reasons. Youth
may choose to run away to the perceived attractiveness of another life (e.g., independent life in
an environment dominated by peers rather than adults) or to return to the family of origin. Or
their running may be associated with characteristics of the placement.
Previous research has provided a moderate amount of descriptive information about the
risk of running away, some data on the characteristics of runaways, and only a glimmer of
11
information as to why a youth in substitute care might choose to run from care. We hope that the
next sections, which highlight our findings from the quantitative and qualitative portions of the
project, will shed further light.
12
THE QUANTITATIVE STUDY: PREVALENCE AND RISK FACTORS
Methods and Sample
The data used for the quantitative analyses in this report come from Illinois’s Child and Youth
Tracking System (CYCIS) and the Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking System (CANTS). The
living arrangement data were used to identify youth who ran away from an out-of-home
placement.2 The primary study population for this report is youth who ran away from out-ofhome care between the ages of 12 and 18. We found that 90 percent of the 14,282 youth who ran
away between 1993 and 2003 were in this age range.
Although our descriptive analysis focuses on children running away from any out-ofhome care setting, our analysis of the conditional probability of a runaway episode and the
multivariate analysis focus on children living in traditional foster care, relative foster care, and
institutions and group homes (identified as substitute care). Here too, because children under the
age of 12 were at a very low risk of running away from a substitute care placement, we limited
the population by only examining youth over the age of 12 in substitute care.
Characteristics of Runaway Youth
Table 1 shows the gender and race of youth (n = 14,282) who ran away from out-of-home care in
Illinois between January 1, 1993, and December 31, 2003, and the number of times they ran from
care.3 Both genders are about equally represented among runaways; Black youth make up twothirds of runaways and White youth an additional one-quarter. The racial/ethnic and gender
distributions of runaways are similar to those of the overall youth population between the ages of
2
The living arrangement codes ABD, RNY, WCC, and WUK were used to identify runaway episodes.
The term “out-of-home care” is used in this report to refer to all forms of DCFS supervised placement, including
independent living arrangements and pending or “other” (OTH living arrangement) placements. Occasionally, we
use the term “substitute care,” which refers to a more limited set of placements, specifically foster boarding homes,
home-of-relative placements, institutional care, and group homes.
13
3
12 and 18 in out-of-home care in Illinois. Table 1 also shows that, although about two-fifths of
runaways only run from care once, over one-third run three or more times.
Table 1. Total Number of Runaway Youth, 1993-2003, by Gender, Race, and Number of Runs
Total Number of
Youth
%
Gender
Female
7,326
51.31
Male
6,953
48.69
Race/Ethnicity
Black
Hispanic
White
Other
9,552
794
3,695
241
66.88
5.56
25.87
1.69
Number of Times on Run
Once
Twice
Three or more times
6,239
2,854
5,189
43.68
19.98
36.33
14,282
100.00
Total
Not surprisingly, runaway behavior is overwhelmingly the province of older youth. Of
the 14,282 youth who ran from care between 1993 and 2003, nearly 90 percent (12,705) ran for
the first time after they were at least 12 years old. In fact, nearly half (47.6%) of the 12- to 18year-olds that ran for the first time between 1993 and 2003 did so after their sixteenth birthday
(see Table 2). Table 3 shows the age at entry to out-of-home care of the youth who ran from care
between the ages of 12 and 18. The columns in the table show the age at which the youth ran
from care. The rows show the age at which they entered care, with all those that entered before
their twelfth birthday grouped into the first row. Table 3 shows that the vast majority of youth
who run away from care are not only older adolescents when they run; they also entered care
during their adolescence. Only those that ran when they were 12 or 13 were more likely than not
to have entered care before their twelfth birthday.
14
Table 2. Total Number of Youth Ages 12-18 Who Ran at Least Once
N
%
Age at First Run
12
622
4.90
13
1,310
10.31
14
2,008
15.80
15
2,712
21.35
16
2,682
21.11
17
2,175
17.12
18
1,196
9.41
12,705
100.00
Total 12-18
Table 3. Age at Entry to Care of Youth Who Ran for the First Time Between 12 and 18 (n = 12,705)
Age at Entry
Age at 1st Run Event (%)
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
Under 12
66.46
50.74
42.35
32.68
25.94
22.07
21.20
12
33.54
22.18
13.60
9.98
10.07
8.03
9.44
13
27.08
18.00
13.17
10.41
10.29
5.08
14
26.05
19.08
13.47
11.93
13.95
15
25.09
17.44
14.38
12.91
16
22.66
17.49
11.39
17
15.80
10.13
18
9.14
Trends in Runaway Behavior over Time
Table 4 shows the number of youth who ran for the first time between 1993 and 2003 by
calendar year. It shows that the number of youth who ran generally declined over the period.
However, looking at the trend in the number of runaways over time may be misleading, because
the observed trend may have simply been a function of a decreasing population of older foster
youth over this period. To better take into account the number of children actually “at risk” of
running away each year, we examined the number of runs per care year for all youth between 12
and 18 in out-of-home care in Illinois between 1993 and 2003 (Table 5). This number represents
the total number of runs each year for the 12- to 18-year-old out-of-home care population
divided by the total number of years of out-of-home care experienced by this age group during
the year in question. It is an overall measure of the frequency of runaway events for all youth 12
15
through 18 in out-of-home care. According to Table 5, the number of runs per care year was
fairly stable over the first half of the period but increased rapidly after 1998, doubling between
1998 and 2003.
Table 4. Total Number of Youth that Begin First Run, by Fiscal Year
Year
N
%
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
Total
1,726
1,444
1,504
1,457
1,475
1,363
1,228
1,207
1,155
943
780
14,282
12.09
10.11
10.53
10.20
10.33
9.54
8.60
8.45
8.09
6.60
5.46
100.00
Table 5: Total Number of Runs per Care Year for Youth Ages 12 to 18 in Out-of-Home Care
Care Year
Number
1993
0.22
1994
0.18
1995
0.19
1996
0.21
1997
0.23
1998
0.24
1999
0.28
2000
0.34
2001
0.38
2002
0.45
2003
0.51
Table 6 examines whether there are seasonal trends in the likelihood that youth will run
away from out-of-home care. Although a higher percentage of all runs do take place in certain
months (e.g., June and August) than in others (e.g., November and December), these differences
are not particularly pronounced.
16
Table 6. Percentage of Youth that Begin First Run, by Month of Run (n = 14,282)
Month
Percent
January
8.07
February
7.41
March
8.98
April
8.55
May
8.95
June
9.30
July
8.90
August
9.04
September
8.56
October
8.31
November
7.11
December
6.83
100.00
Total
Length of Runaway Episodes
An important dimension of runaway behavior is the length of time that youth spend away from
care. Longer runs may expose youth to hazardous situations. Table 7 shows how long youth that
were 12 to 18 years old at the time of their first run were away from care. Most runs are of short
duration. In fact, nearly one-half of all runs are less than 1 week long. At the same time, nearly
one-fourth of youth who run for the first time are absent for more than 5 weeks. As the age of the
child at first run increases, the time spent away from care increases. For example, although only
11.8 percent of runners who were 12 were away from care more than 5 weeks, this was true for
37.6 percent of those who ran when they were 18.4 There were no discernible differences
between males and females in time spent away from care (not shown in table).
4
A small number of youth that were still on the run at the end of December 2003 are not represented in Table 7.
17
Table 7. Number of Weeks Youth Spend Away from Care Following First Run, by Age (n = 12,705)
Total 12-Yr.- 13-Yr.- 14-Yr.- 15-Yr.- 16-Yr.- 17-Yr.- 18-Yr.(%) Olds (%) Olds (%) Olds (%) Olds (%) Olds (%) Olds (%) Olds (%)
Less than 1 week
48.27
61.55
57.89
54.11
48.37
44.73
38.24
34.24
1 week
12.86
14.81
14.00
13.27
12.73
13.38
12.48
11.43
2 weeks
6.06
5.46
4.65
6.62
7.19
5.94
5.9
5.65
3 weeks
3.63
2.48
4.04
2.6
3.92
3.77
3.82
4.75
4 weeks
4.82
3.89
4.13
4.07
5.06
5.62
5.34
6.32
5 or more weeks
24.36
11.81
15.29
19.33
22.74
26.56
34.23
37.6
Placement Before and after Run Events
Information concerning where children run from and where they come back to after a run can be
useful for targeting prevention and intervention activities directed at runaway behavior. Table 8
shows the placement transitions for runaways who were living in the home of a relative, foster
home, or residential care at the time of the run.5 For example, the first set of rows in Table 8
shows where the children who ran from the home of a relative ended up when they returned from
a runaway episode. Of the 3,018 youth whose first runaway episode began when they ran from
the home of a relative, 44.4 percent returned to a home-of-relative placement. Similarly, of the
1,267 youth whose second runaway episode began when they ran from the home of a relative,
41.8 percent returned to the home of a relative.
Note that the 1,267 youth listed as having run a second time from the home of a relative
are not a subset of the 3,018 who ran a first time from the home of a relative. Rather, the smaller
group represents those youth who had already run away once from some form of out-of-home
care and subsequently ran a second time from the home of a relative. Many of these youth ran for
the first time from a placement other than the home of a relative. Thus, Table 8 shows the
5
The “home of relative” category refers to all children in either HMR (home of relative) or DRA (delegated
relative authority) placements. The foster care category includes traditional, specialized, and treatment foster care.
Residential care refers to all institution private agency placements (IPA) and group homes The “Other” category
refers to all forms of independent living, other institutional care, and pending, missing, or OTH living arrangements.
The permanent category includes youth who return home, are adopted, or move to subsidized guardianship.
18
placement destination or other outcome (e.g., permanency status, still on run) for youth who ran
a first, second, or third time from one of the three major placement types.
Some interesting findings emerge from Table 8. First, it is clear that many more youth
run away from residential care than from foster home or home-of-relative placements, in spite of
the fact that far fewer youth in Illinois reside in residential care than in either of the other two
major placement settings. Almost as many youth ran a first time from residential care (5,764) as
ran a first time from foster home and home-of-relative care combined (6,474). In fact, the total
number of youth whose third run was from residential care (3,073) is higher than the total
number that ran for the first time from home-of-relative care (3,018). Second, youth are
generally more likely to return to the kind of placement they ran from than any other kind of
placement. This is true regardless of whether a youth is running for the first, second, or third
time. Still, only in the case of residential care do more than half of the youth return to the same
kind of care from which they ran. Third, the more times youth run from care, the more likely
they will end up in detention as their next destination. For example, the percentage of youth
running for the first time and ending up in detention ranges from 7.2 percent for those who ran
from the home of a relative to 7.5 percent for those running from residential care. In contrast, the
percentage of those ending up in detention after a third run ranges from 10.3 percent for those
who ran from the home of a relative to 13.8 percent for those who ran from a foster home.
Fourth, a small but nontrivial percentage of runaways are discharged to “permanency,” mostly
reunification with family.
19
Table 8. Pre- and Post- Placements of First, Second, and Third Run Events from Home of Relative,
Foster Care, and Residential Care, 1993 through 2003
Placement Prior Placement PostPlacement PostPlacement Postto Run
1st Run
2nd Run
3rd Run
N%
N%
N%
Home Relative
Home Relative
Home Relative
Home Relative
Home Relative
Home Relative
Home Relative
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
Total
29
715
1,340
279
314
218
123
3,018
0.96
23.69
44.40
9.24
10.40
7.22
4.08
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
14
335
530
104
134
109
41
1,267
1.10
26.44
41.83
8.21
10.58
8.60
3.24
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
1
170
247
50
81
65
20
634
0.16
26.81
38.96
7.89
12.78
10.25
3.15
Foster Care
Foster Care
Foster Care
Foster Care
Foster Care
Foster Care
Foster Care
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
Total
26
524
356
1,613
542
268
127
3,456
0.75
15.16
10.30
46.67
15.68
7.75
3.67
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
15
215
153
667
196
182
57
1,485
1.01
14.48
10.30
44.92
13.20
12.26
3.84
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
12
121
63
384
112
115
25
832
1.44
14.54
7.57
46.15
13.46
13.82
3.00
Residential
Residential
Residential
Residential
Residential
Residential
Residential
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
Total
15
565
447
276
3,822
432
207
5,764
0.26
9.80
7.76
4.79
66.31
7.49
3.59
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
22
441
310
197
2,867
377
115
4,329
0.51
10.19
7.16
4.55
66.23
8.71
2.66
Still on run
Other
Home relative
Foster care
Residential
Detention
Permanent
20
303
187
131
2,066
305
61
3,073
0.65
9.86
6.09
4.26
67.23
9.93
1.99
20
Changes in the Likelihood of Runaway over the Course of Care
Prior research suggests that youth may not be at the same risk of running away throughout their
entire stay in out-of-home care. In order to examine changes over time in the likelihood that
youth will run away, we examined trends in the conditional likelihood of running away for the
entire population of 12-and-over youth in out-of-home care and for selected subpopulations. The
conditional probability is the percentage of a population “at risk” of an event of interest that
experiences the event during a discrete period of time. The conditional probability of interest
here is the percentage of children among those entering out-of-home care that are still in care at
the beginning of a period, and therefore still at risk of running away, that actually run away from
care during the given period. Note that the population at risk of running away from out-of-home
care generally declines over time because children are constantly leaving care for a variety of
reasons, only one of which is runaway. Conditional probabilities take into account this change
over time in the size of the population still at risk for running away from care.
Figures 1 through 7 show changes in the conditional probability of running away from
care for various populations of youth 12 and over that entered out-of-home care in Illinois
between 1993 and 2003. For example, Figure 1 shows the conditional probability, defined over
30-day intervals, that children will run from out-of-home care over the first 2 years of their care
experience. According to Figure 1, youth are much more likely to run in the first few months of
care than later, at least over the first 2 years of care. In fact, whereas the conditional likelihood of
running is over 2 percent for the first two 30-day intervals, this drops to less than .5 percent after
1 year, and hovers at about this level through the end of the second year. Note that the interval
over which the conditional probability of running is calculated ranges from 30 days in some
figures to 90 days in others. This allows us to look at changes over differing time periods.
21
Figure 1. Conditional Probability of First Run Event over 2 Years
2.50%
Conditional Prob. of 1st Run Event
2.25%
2.00%
1.75%
1.50%
1st Run
Event
1.25%
1.00%
0.75%
0.50%
0.25%
0.00%
30
90
150
210
270
330
390
450
510
570
630
690
Number of Days in Care
Figure 2 shows trends in the conditional probability of running away over 4 years,
defined over 90-day intervals. Although the actual percentages are higher due to the longer time
interval used to define the conditional probability, the trends observed in Figure 1 for the first 2
years of care are also found here; youth are more likely to run in the first few months than later.
However, Figure 2 also shows a gradual increase in the likelihood of runaway after 2 years. At 4
years, the conditional probability of runaway has increased to where it is more than half the high
rate that is observed during the first few months of care.
22
Figure 2. Conditional Probability of First Run Event over 4 Years
5.0%
Conditional Prob. of 1st Run Event
4.5%
4.0%
3.5%
3.0%
2.5%
1st Run
Event
2.0%
1.5%
1.0%
0.5%
0.0%
90
0
18
0
27
0
36
0
45
0
54
0
63
0
72
0
81
0
90
0
0
0
0
0
0
99 1 08 1 17 1 26 1 35 1 44
Number of Days in Care
Figure 3 shows how the conditional probability of running away changes depending on
how many times a youth has already run away: The overall probability that a child will run away
from care during their first episode in out-of-home care is very low, even at the beginning of
their stay in care, the time when the likelihood of runaway is highest. In contrast, once youth
have run away once, the likelihood that they will run again after they reenter care is high,
particularly during the period just after their return to care. The likelihood of running also
increases the more times a youth has run previously. For example, over 20 percent of youth who
have run once before will run again within 30 days of reentering care, and over 30 percent of
youth who have run twice before will run again within 30 days of reentry.
23
Figure 3. Conditional Probability of First, Second, and Third Run Events over 2
Years
Conditional Prob. of Run Event
35%
30%
1st Run
Event
2nd Run
Event
3rd Run
Event
25%
20%
15%
10%
5%
0%
Number of Days in Care
The next two figures illustrate the relationship between age and the conditional
probability of runaway. Figure 4 compares the likelihood of running away during the first year of
care for three age groups of youth. Clearly, the likelihood that a child will run increases with age,
with the most notable difference being between those 13 or younger and those older than 13. In
fact, over much of the first year in care, older youth are twice as likely to run as younger youth.
Figure 5 illustrates why it is important to distinguish the age at which youth enter care from their
age at any given point in time when trying to understand runaway behavior. The figure compares
the conditional probability of runaway over a 4-year period for youth that entered care before
their twelfth birthday with that of youth who entered care on or after their twelfth birthday. For
the group that entered at an older age, the likelihood of runaway decreases over the first few
months in care, becoming relatively stable within about 9 months of entry to care. In contrast, the
conditional probability of runaway increases consistently over time for those who entered care
24
before their twelfth birthday, likely reflecting the fact that they only enter the “high-risk” age for
runaway as they become adolescents.
Figure 4. Conditional Probability of First Run Event, by Age Group over 1 Year
Conditional Prob. of 1st Run Event
7%
6%
5%
Age 12-13
4%
Age 14-15
3%
Age 16-18
2%
1%
0%
30
60
90
120
150
180
210
240
270
300
330
360
Number of Days in Care
Figure 5. Conditional Probability of First Run Event, by Age at Entry over 4 Years
9%
7%
Enter Under 12yr
old
6%
12 and older
8%
5%
4%
3%
2%
1%
Number of Days in Care
25
14
40
13
50
12
60
11
70
10
80
99
0
90
0
81
0
72
0
63
0
54
0
45
0
36
0
27
0
18
0
0%
90
Conditional Prob. of 1st Run Event
10%
Figure 6 compares the likelihood of runaway between males and females who are 12 and
over, showing that females are more likely to run away than males during the first 6 months of
out-of-home care. This difference is particularly pronounced during the first month of care.
Figure 7 compares the conditional probability of exit between Black, Hispanic, and White youth
over the first year. In general, Black youth appear less likely to run away than White youth. The
high level of variability in the conditional probability of runaway for Hispanic youth reflects
their relatively small numbers in the overall out-of-home care population.
Conditional Prob. of 1st Run Event
Figure 6. Conditional Probability of First Run Event, by Gender over 1 Year
3.00%
2.75%
2.50%
2.25%
2.00%
1.75%
1.50%
1.25%
1.00%
0.75%
0.50%
0.25%
0.00%
Male
Female
30
60
90
120
150
180
210
240
Number of Days in Care
26
270
300
330
360
Figure 7. Conditional Probability of First Run Event, by Race/Ethnicity over 1 Year
Conditional Prob. of 1st Run Event
3.5%
3.0%
2.5%
Black
2.0%
Hispanic
1.5%
White
1.0%
0.5%
0.0%
Number of Days in Care
Multivariate Analysis of Predictors of the First Runaway Event
Conditional probabilities provide helpful descriptions of how the likelihood of running away
changes over time and some idea of how the characteristics of youth might be related to the
likelihood of runaway. However, multivariate techniques improve our ability to identify
predictors of runaway by simultaneously controlling for multiple factors. The multivariate
analysis may reveal different relationships than were apparent in the single-dimension
conditional probabilities presented above.
Given that the analysis of running away involves the modeling of probabilities over time,
the use of a particular class of statistical model is required. For the analyses described below, we
applied several variants of the Cox proportional-hazards model to estimate the hazard rate, or the
instantaneous probability, of experiencing a runaway episode at any point in time, given that a
youth was “at risk” of running away.
Because the results of descriptive analyses presented above suggest that the nature of first
runaways may be materially different than that of subsequent runaways, and because a major
27
goal of this report is to examine the factors that lead to repeated runaways, separate analyses
were conducted of first and subsequent runs. For both analyses, we considered a youth to be at
risk of running away only after his or her twelfth birthday and only if he or she had not yet
experienced any of the following events: reunification, adoption, subsidized guardianship,
independent living, “other” or pending out-of-home placement, or case closing. Also, for the
analysis of subsequent runaways, youth were not considered to be at risk until after they had run
at least once. Hence, although the analysis of first runs includes all eligible youth, the sample for
the analysis of subsequent runs contains only those youth who had at least one previous runaway
episode. Further, the analysis of subsequent runaways, which examined all runs subsequent to
the first, required the use of a particular variant of the Cox proportional-hazards model that
corrects for the biases that the analysis of such data can create.
The primary statistic that we will focus on from the proportional-hazards model is the
relative risk ratio (RR), which describes the increase or decrease in the hazard of runaway
associated with a particular variable, while controlling for all of the other variables included in
the model. Values greater than 1 indicate that a variable is associated with an increase in the risk
of runaway, whereas values less than 1 indicate a decreased risk. For variables in our models, the
risk ratio shows the estimated change in the risk of runaway associated with a particular value of
the variable relative to a specified comparison category (see, e.g., White).6 For example, Table 9
shows that, all else being equal, Black youth experience first runs from care at about 1.30 times
the rate of White youth and that Hispanics experience first runs at about 1.24 times that of
Whites. This finding emphasizes the importance of estimating a multivariate model of runaway
episodes because failure to control for observed differences between Black and White youth, as
6
Note that comparison categories are listed first for all categorical variables and show a risk ratio of 1.
28
is the case in Figure 7 above, leads to the erroneous conclusion that being Black is associated
with a reduced risk of first runaway.
The following variables were included in both the first-runs and subsequent-runs models:
youth’s race/ethnicity, youth’s gender, youth’s age, prior substantiated maltreatment experienced
by the youth, youth’s developmental disability/cognitive delay status,7 diagnosed mental health
conditions,8 administrative region, fiscal year of entry to substitute care, number of prior
placements, number of prior substitute care spells, license type of current placement, and a
variable indicating the presence of one or more siblings in a child’s current placement. Two
additional variables—number of prior runs and duration of first runaway—were included only in
the model of subsequent runs.
An important feature of the proportional-hazards model is that it can allow the values of
variables to vary over time. For instance, as a youth changes placements, the value of the
placement license type variable can be adjusted accordingly. In the models presented below,
some variables were allowed to vary continuously within spells, whereas others were updated
only at the start of subsequent substitute care spells. Variables whose values were allowed to
vary within substitute care spells include: license type of current placement, diagnosed mental
health conditions,9 number of prior placements, and number of prior runs. Variables whose
7
Presence of developmental disability and/or cognitive delay is obtained from the child’s “handicap” field in
CYCIS.
8
Presence of mental health diagnoses is obtained from the Medicaid Paid Claims database. A particular diagnosis is
indicated if a child has received Medicaid-paid health care related to the diagnosis. Diagnoses were grouped using
Clinical Classifications Software (1999) from the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.
9
For the purpose of our Cox models, we treated mental health diagnosis as time varying, but in a limited sense. In
our analyses, a child was treated as having a given diagnosis from the point of the first paid claim related to that
diagnosis until the end of the observation period. Thus, a child who was diagnosed prior to entering DCFS care
would be labeled with that diagnosis through their entire stay in care, and a child diagnosed after entry would be
labeled as such from that point forward. This was done because there is no practical way to use Medicaid data to
reliably identify if and when a particular diagnosis is no longer applicable. Our measure of mental health diagnosis
is limited. First, it relies on access to and utilization of Medicaid paid mental health care to measure mental health
problems, but this care may not be accessed or utilized equitably between families prior to children entering care or
between regions of the state after children enter care. Thus, in this way our measure may under-identify mental
29
values were allowed to change only at the start of a substitute care spell include: child’s age,10
substantiated maltreatment, administrative region, fiscal year of entry, and number of prior
substitute care spells.
The results of the analysis of first and subsequent runaway episodes are summarized in
Table 9. Demographic characteristics of the youth are related to the estimated risk of runaway.
Gender was a statistically significant predictor of runaway in both models, with girls being much
more likely than boys to experience a first run (RR = 1.44) and slightly more likely to experience
a subsequent run (RR = 1.12). The model suggests that Black and Hispanic children are more
likely to experience a first run than White children. This difference conflicts with the data
presented in Figure 7 above, where Black youth appear less likely to run than White youth.
However, Figure 7 does not take into account the fact that Black and Hispanic youth are more
likely than White youth to reside in home-of-relative care, which is associated with a decreased
risk of runaway (see below). This fact confounds the relationship between race and the
likelihood of runaway when it is not taken into account. Controlling for other measured factors,
race and ethnicity appear to be unrelated to the likelihood of subsequent runs. Even after
controlling for other factors, the age at which youth entered their most recent substitute care spell
was an important influence on the likelihood of a first run, with increasing age being associated
with increased risk.11 Age has a more complicated and less important role in subsequent runs.
Specifically, children who returned from a runaway episode while under the age of 12, or over
13, were slightly more likely than the comparison group (12 years old) to run away again.
health problems. Second, because we cannot identify when a child no longer has a previously identified diagnosis,
we run the risk of over-identifying mental health problems among those children who are ever diagnosed.
10
In the models of subsequent runaways, child’s age was initially set to be equal to his or her age at the time of the
first run.
11
The exception to this is the group of youth that entered care at age 17, who ran away at about the same rate as the
12-year-old comparison group. It is important to keep in mind that very few youth enter DCFS care this late in
30
Our models also include indicators of children’s experiences and functioning that could
affect the risk of runaway. The type of substantiated child maltreatment that a child experienced
was related to the risk of runaway, but primarily for first runs. Reported sexual abuse decreased
the likelihood of first runaways by 15 percent, but did not affect the likelihood of subsequent
runaways . Youth exposed to lack of supervision were at increased risk of a first run (RR = 1.17).
An indication of some form of developmental disability or cognitive delay was associated
with a substantial decrease in the risk of first runs (RR = .56) but not subsequent runs. Diagnosed
mental and behavioral health problems were also more strongly associated with first than with
subsequent runs. Alcohol and other substance-related disorders were most strongly related to
increased runaway risk (RR = 1.77), whereas schizophrenia and other psychoses were most
strongly associated with reduced risk (RR = .70). Anxiety, somatoform, dissociative, and
personality disorders reduced estimated runaway risk to a moderate degree (RR = .80), whereas
“other mental conditions” were associated with a moderate increase (RR = 1.10). Alcohol and
other substance-related disorders increased the estimated risk of subsequent runs (RR = 1.08).
Several aspects of youths’ experiences in out-of-home care were associated with the risk
of runaway, some very powerfully so. The DCFS administrative region in which a child was
placed was associated with variation in the risk of runaway, even after controlling for the other
variables in our models. Compared with Cook North, placement in Champaign, Marion, or Cook
South was associated with a small to moderate decrease in the estimated risk of first runs.
Placement in Springfield increased the estimated risk of subsequent runs compared with
placement in Cook North. Year of entry to care was associated with runaway risk, but more
powerfully for subsequent than for first runs. The estimated runaway risk for first runs was
childhood. Moreover, the reasons that these youth enter care may be different from those of younger children in
ways that are not captured by our model.
31
somewhat higher in 1998, and much higher in 2000, than in the comparison year, 1990. A clearer
trend is evident for subsequent runs, with the estimated risk increasing abruptly in 1996, and
increasing steadily after 1997. It is important to keep in mind that the observation period for the
2000 entry cohort is limited, so the high estimates in both models for this year should be
regarded with some caution.
Placement instability while in out-of-home care and movements into and out of care were
both associated with runaway risk. Not surprisingly, increased placement instability generally
increased the estimated risk of first runs, with even one additional placement increasing the
relative risk of running by nearly 70 percent. For subsequent runs, the effect of placement
instability only becomes statistically significant after six or more runs and even extreme
placement instability (e.g., nine or more placements) does not have the effect here that it appears
to have on first runs, though it remains an important risk for runaway. Multiple spells in out-ofhome care, most commonly associated with failed family reunification efforts, are associated
with a moderate decrease in the estimated risk of first runs and a slight decrease in the risk of
subsequent runs. Perhaps this finding reflects the strength of youths’ family networks and
pressure from family for youth to “behave” while in out-of-home care in order to improve the
odds of family reunification.
The type of placement in which a child resided while in care was strongly related to the
estimated likelihood of runaway. For both first and subsequent runs, being in a relative foster
home substantially decreased the estimated risk of runaway compared with placement in a nonrelative foster home, whereas placement in the most common DCFS residential care facilities
was associated with a much higher risk than that experienced by children in nonrelative foster
homes. Corrections facilities, hospitals, and “other residential care facilities,” the most restrictive
32
placement options, were associated with reduced risk of both first and subsequent runs, perhaps
reflecting the difficulty of running from these settings.
The presence of one or more siblings in the same placement at the same time as the youth
dramatically reduced the risk of first runs (RR = .36) and moderately reduced the likelihood of
subsequent runs (RR = .61). In order to explore the possibility that these observed sibling effects
varied across different placement settings, a series of interaction variables was included in both
models. The relative risk ratios for these interaction terms can be interpreted as adjustments to
the main effect of the presence of siblings. For instance, although the relative risk ratio for the
main effect of the presence of siblings on the likelihood of first runs is .36, the “adjusted” effect
realized in relative placements is .55 (main effect * interaction effect = .36 * 1.52 ). Indeed,
although the presence of siblings appears to reduce the likelihood of first and subsequent runs
across all placement settings, the magnitude of the observed reduction ranges, for first runs, from
64 percent for youth in regular foster homes (RR = .36 * 1.0) to 17 percent for youth in DCFS
residential care facilities (RR = .36 * 2.31), and, for subsequent runs, from 39 percent for youth
in regular foster homes (RR = .61 * 1.0) to 14 percent for youth in DCFS residential care
facilities (RR = .61 * 1.41)
Runaway history was associated with the risk of subsequent runs. Not surprisingly, and
consistent with the findings presented in Figure 3 above, each runaway event increased the
estimated risk of a subsequent run. In addition, youth whose last runaway episode had lasted
between 7 and 89 days (e.g., between about 1 week and 3 months) were somewhat more likely to
run again than those with shorter or longer previous runaway episodes.
33
Table 9. Likelihood of First and Subsequent Runs from Substitute Care
First runs
Subsequent runs
N
Events
N
Events
41,636
9,962
9,857
15,399
Variable
% of
% of
Hazard ratio
Hazard ratio
youth 12,13
youth
Youth’s Gender
Boy
Girl
Youth’s Race/Ethnicity
White
Black
Hispanic
Other
Youth’s Age
11 and younger
12
13
14
15
16
17
Prior Substantiated Maltreatment
Sexual Abuse
Physical Abuse
Substance Exposure (SEI)
Emotional Abuse
Lack of Supervision
Environmental Neglect
Other Neglect
Youth’s Developmental Disability/Cognitive Delay Status
Diagnosed Mental Health Conditions
Alcohol/Substance-Related Mental Disorders
Affective Disorders
Schizophrenia/Other Psychoses
Anxiety, Somatoform, Dissociative, and Personality Disorders
Pre-adult Disorders including conduct disorders and attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder
Other Mental Conditions including sexuality-related
disorders, eating disorders, and adjust reaction disorders
Personal History of Mental Disorder, Mental and Behavioral
Problems, Observation and Screening for Mental Condition
Administrative Region
Northern
Rockford
Aurora
12
49.1%
50.9%
1.00
1.44***
46.8%
53.2%
1.00
1.12***
30.5%
62.5%
5.1%
1.9%
1.00
1.30***
1.24***
1.12
31.2%
61.9%
5.1%
1.8%
1.00
1.00
1.06
1.04
46.9%
11.7%
10.9%
10.9%
10.3%
7.5%
1.9%
0.50***
1.00
1.63***
2.02***
2.15***
2.02***
0.87*
27.1%
10.5%
13.6%
16.4%
15.9%
11.4%
1.2%
1.10**
1.00
1.03
1.10**
1.13***
1.12**
0.82**
16.7%
17.1%
1.8%
1.7%
46.1%
23.1%
13.6%
6.9%
0.85***
0.94*
1.13
0.90
1.17***
0.98
0.93*
0.56***
18.0%
20.1%
1.8%
1.8%
48.1%
21.2%
14.8%
5.8%
0.96
1.02
1.12
0.95
1.03
1.02
1.01
0.95
1.2%
9.0%
2.1%
6.0%
1.77***
1.00
0.70***
0.80***
7.2%
24.5%
4.4%
13.1%
1.08**
0.96*
1.02
0.94*
11.2%
0.93*
22.6%
1.01
18.1%
1.10**
36.7%
1.01
5.3%
1.01
8.8%
1.01
3.9%
8.2%
0.96
0.99
4.3%
8.3%
1.03
1.08
Descriptive statistics for time-varying variables refer to the values of those variables at the point in time that youth
entered the risk set.
13
Percentages reported for the placement-sibling interaction variables describe the proportion of youth with sibling
placements within that particular placement type.
34
Central
Springfield
Peoria
Champaign
Southern
East St. Louis
Marion
Cook
Other
North
Central
South
Other
Fiscal Year of Entry to Substitute Care
Before 1990
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
Number of Prior Formal Placements
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9 or more
Number of Prior Substitute Care Spells
None
One
Two or more
License Type of Current Placement
Regular Foster Home
Specialized or Treatment Foster Home
Relative Foster Home
Residential Care Facility (Institution Private Agencies, Group
Homes, and Shelters)
Other Residential Care Facility (Detention/DOC, HHF, other
ORC, other/missing)
One or More Siblings in Current Placement
Main Effect of Siblings in Current Placement
Differential Effects of Siblings by Placement License Type
Regular Foster Home
35
4.5%
7.2%
6.9%
1.07
0.91
0.87**
5.1%
6.7%
7.3%
1.16***
1.05
1.06
4.6%
4.0%
1.04
0.72***
6.0%
2.8%
1.04
0.87
16.8%
12.7%
12.6%
17.9%
0.7%
1.00
1.00
1.01
0.89***
1.02
17.7%
13.4%
11.4%
16.1%
0.9%
1.02
1.00
0.98
1.03
1.01
20.6%
8.1%
8.5%
10.9%
8.8%
10.0%
10.5%
6.8%
5.6%
4.2%
3.4%
2.7%
0.86***
1.00
0.97
1.04
0.99
0.96
0.91
1.04
1.06
1.19**
1.10
1.61***
24.5%
8.0%
7.8%
11.0%
9.4%
9.7%
9.5%
6.3%
5.5%
4.0%
2.8%
1.5%
0.94
1.00
1.04
1.04
1.06
1.05
1.08
1.23***
1.23***
1.42***
1.58***
1.99***
55.3%
11.3%
8.6%
6.5%
5.0%
3.4%
2.6%
1.9%
1.42
4.1%
1.00
1.71***
2.27***
2.72***
2.95***
3.16***
3.72***
3.55***
3.67***
4.40***
12.8%
13.7%
12.1%
10.5%
8.6%
7.4%
6.7%
5.2%
23.1%
n.a.
1.00
1.11
1.09
1.16*
1.14
1.31***
1.19**
1.24**
1.31***
81.1%
14.7%
4.2%
1.00
0.82***
0.74***
67.8%
22.3%
9.9%
1.00
0.93**
0.97
21.9%
10.7%
38.8%
1.00
0.84***
0.66***
12.8%
7.0%
18.5%
1.00
0.99
0.54***
14.9%
1.93***
44.2%
1.36***
13.7%
0.73***
17.5%
0.28***
47.1%
0.36***
12.8%
0.61***
41.7%
1.00
12.8%
1.00
Specialized or Treatment Foster Home
Relative Foster Home
Residential Care Facility (e.g., Institution Private Agencies,
Group Homes, and Shelters)
Other Residential Care Facility (Detention/DOC, HHF,
other ORC)
Number of Prior Runs
1
2
3
4
5
6
7 or more
Duration of First Run
0 to 6 days
7 to 29 days
30 to 89 days
90 days or more
38.9%
71.3%
1.04
1.52***
10.4%
33.7%
1.25
1.39**
14.0%
2.31***
6.5%
1.41**
29.8%
2.07***
13.3%
1.28
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
51.3%
20.2%
10.9%
6.5%
4.1%
2.2%
4.9%
1.00
1.25***
1.45***
1.52***
1.60***
1.80***
2.16***
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
25.3%
25.5%
22.7%
26.5%
1.00
1.18***
1.13***
0.97
*** = <.001 ** = <.01 * = .05
Predicting Subsequent Runs Using Available Data
Approximately one-third of youth who run from DCFS care will run again, most within a
relatively short time after they return to care. It might be useful for DCFS staff charged with
reducing runaway behavior to be able to predict which youth returning to care are at relatively
high risk of running again and which are at relatively low risk. To illustrate the utility of
currently available data for achieving this purpose, we identified a set of six risk factors for
subsequent runaway for youth who had run away from care at least once, based on our
multivariate model of subsequent runs. The six risk factors included:
•
•
•
•
•
•
Placement type (residential care placements = 1; home of relative, “other”
residential care, detention, and hospitals = -1; all other placements = 0).
6 or more prior placements = 1.
First run between 1 week and 3 months duration = 1.
One or more siblings in placement.
Female = 1.
Age between 14 and 16 = 1.
Youth could have a score of anywhere from -1 to 6 on this “risk index.”14
14
We created this risk index for illustrative purposes only. Although the variables used to construct the risk index
are all associated with subsequent runaway events, there are many other ways in which a risk index could be
36
Table 10. Distribution of Risk Factors among Runaways
Cumulative number
of risk factors
Number of children
Percentage of
Percentage of
Number of children
experiencing a
children experiencing
children at particular
at particular
subsequent run
a subsequent run
risk level
risk level
-1
212
2.5%
32
15.1%
0
785
9.2%
131
16.7%
1
1,625
19.0%
379
23.3%
2
2,378
27.8%
748
31.5%
3
2,177
25.4%
887
40.7%
4
1,114
13.0%
530
47.6%
5
247
2.9%
122
49.4%
6
16
0.2%
9
56.3%
Table 10 shows the distribution of these risk factors among the runaway population. It
also shows the number and percentage of youth who ran away again after returning from a
previous run. Figure 8 depicts the relationship between the number of risk factors and the
likelihood of a subsequent run. There is a clear relationship between the number of risk factors
and the likelihood that a youth will run away from care within 12 months of returning from a
runaway episode, with higher risk scores associated with a higher likelihood of a subsequent run.
Not surprisingly, almost none of the youth had a negative score, few youth exhibit none of the
risk factors, and very few exhibit all of them. Nevertheless, the 16.1 percent of the population
with four or more risk factors is more than twice as likely to run away again as the 30.7 percent
with one or fewer. This suggests that it might be possible using existing data to target prevention
resources to those youth at particularly high risk of repeated runs.
constructed and we make no claim that this particular index is ideal. For example, our approach assumes that these
risks are additive and that all possible combinations of risks that result in a particular score result in the same level
of observed risk, but this may not be the case.
37
Figure 8. Rate of Subsequent Runs by Risk Factor Level
60%
56.3%
47.6%
50%
49.4%
Percentage of children
40.7%
40%
Overall subsequent runaway rate (33.2%)
31.5%
30%
23.3%
27.8%
25.4%
20%
15.1%
16.7%
19.0%
13.0%
10%
9.2%
2.5%
2.9%
0.2%
5
6
0%
-1
0
1
2
3
4
Number of risk factors
Percentage of children at particular risk level
Percentage of children experiencing a subsequent run
Key Findings from the Quantitative Analysis
Our findings are limited by the available data. To the extent that runaway episodes are not
captured in the same way across the state or across placements, there will be error in our
analyses. In addition, although available administrative data measure several important correlates
of runaway behavior, they do not capture all of the child-, family-, and system-level variables
that we might expect to influence the incidence of runaway. Nevertheless, we believe that several
of our findings warrant attention.
•
Although the absolute number of runaway events declined between 1993 and 2003, this
does not reflect actual changes over time in the likelihood that DCFS youth would run
from out-of-home care. In fact, both our analysis of trends in the number of runs per care
year for all youth in care and our multivariate analysis of first runs by youth entering care
38
show that the likelihood of runaway increased significantly starting in the late 1990s. The
multivariate analysis is particularly telling because it suggests that this increase over time
in the probability that youth would run from care may not be due entirely to changes in
the characteristics of the population; it also suggests that the increase is due almost
entirely to an increase in subsequent runs rather than first runs.
15
•
The focus of runaway prevention efforts should clearly be directed at youth, particularly
older youth. The overwhelming majority of runaways are 12 or older, and most youth
who run away actually entered care as adolescents.
•
Our multivariate findings indicate that gender and race/ethnicity are related to the hazard
of a first run, but they provide no understanding of why this is the case. Future research
should attempt to further clarify why females are more likely to run than males and why
children of color, particularly Black children, are more likely to run than White
children.15
•
The timing of runaway events suggests one strategy for targeting runaway prevention
efforts. Among youth in out-of-home care for the first time, the probability of runaway is
very low, even during the first few months of care when the risk of runaway is at its
highest. In contrast, the probability that a youth who has run once will run again is
relatively high, particularly during the period immediately after the return to care. Thus,
although prevention efforts should not ignore youth in care for the first time, the
population that has already run at least once is an important target for intervention.
Interventions timed to engage youth immediately after they return from a runaway
episode should be targeted toward those most likely to run again.
•
Youth with substance abuse problems and some mental health diagnoses are at
heightened risk of runaway, suggesting possible targets for prevention efforts.
•
Efforts at reducing placement instability may also reduce the likelihood of runaway. The
multivariate model indicates that a youth in his or her second placement is 70 percent
more likely to run for the first time from out-of-home care than a child in his or her first
placement. A youth with five placements, and there are many in DCFS care, is nearly
three times as likely to run as a child in a first placement. This is one area where
prevention efforts can begin before a child has experienced a first run.
•
Variation in the duration of runaway events calls for a better understanding of the
heterogeneity of runaway behavior. Most runaway events last a week or less. However, a
sizable proportion of runs last more than a month, with over one-third of runs by youth
16 and over lasting at least a month. Administrative data cannot shed much light on what
happens during a run episode, but longer runs may expose youth to greater risk of
harmful experiences. Future research should focus on better understanding what
distinguishes short-term from long-term runners and whether experiences while on the
run differ depending on the length of the run episode.
We use the terms Black, Hispanic, and White because these are the terms used to describe race/ethnicity in the
DCFS database.
39
•
Placement type appears to play a strong role in the likelihood of runaway. All else being
equal, youth in foster home care are less likely to run from care than those in residential
care, and those living in the home of a relative are even less likely to run. Efforts to
prevent runaway should target residential care, if for no other reason than the fact that
nearly one-half of first runs and over two-fifths of subsequent runs come from residential
care.
•
Between-region variation in the incidence of runaway warrants further examination. Is
this a function of differences between regions in the reporting of runaway events, the
characteristics of children, or child welfare practice? Whatever the source of this
variation, it is a significant contributor to runaway behavior and should be identified.
40
QUALITATIVE STUDY: YOUTH VOICES
Methodology
The qualitative study aimed to interview forty youth who had a history of running from
substitute care as well as ten key informants, including foster parents, who had experience with
youth running away from care. Other key informants included professional staff and
administrators at various organizations and agencies working with runaway youth, including
DCFS, law enforcement agencies, and private service-providing organizations, among others. In
both cases, we exceeded interview goals, completing forty-six youth and sixteen key informant
interviews.16 The youth and foster parents identified and contacted for interviewing were chosen
from a random sample of individuals culled from Chapin Hall’s Integrated Database on
Children’s Services in Illinois. Non-foster parent candidates for key informant interviews were
chosen through purposive sample procedures, meaning that we chose to target specific
informants who could provide important perspectives.
A more complete description of our samples and sampling procedures can be found in
Appendix B; the foster youth interview protocol is in Appendix C.
Who Are the Young People?
Sometimes when you run away . . . [there’s] a story behind it. Sometimes . . . you just leave.
This section of the report explores the experiences of the forty-two youth who were interviewed
and is supplemented by insight provided by key informants in their interviews. Although each
young person is unique, they share many perspectives, concerns, and experiences. Taken
16
Although we completed forty-six interviews, four interview transcripts were completed after the analysis was
done. Thus, the analysis is based on forty-two interviews.
41
together, the interviews add context and detail to the data presented in the previous section. We
aim in this section to learn something about the young people who run from their placements and
to let them speak for themselves to the question of why they run from care. We hope to learn
what they are seeking, what they are escaping, what brings them back into placement, and what
they experience in the process.
First, we will briefly describe the group of young people we interviewed with regard to a
few demographic characteristics. Drawing from the interviews with youth, we will then highlight
some aspects of their experience—specifically, traumatic events and risk behaviors while on the
run—that likely have an impact on their perceptions and actions. The following section will
describe themes that recurred consistently throughout the interviews with youth and key
informants, and will go on to relate them to patterns and motivations for running that we were
able to discern from the interviews.
The group of forty-two Cook County youth we interviewed were primarily African
American (88%), evenly divided between females (52%) and males (48%), and were older teens,
with 74 percent of them being between the ages of 16 and 18. Eighty percent of the youth
reported that they entered DCFS care between the ages of 0 and 9 years. At the time of our
interviews, 83 percent reported they had experienced between three and eight placements. The
youths’ current living circumstances were fairly evenly distributed between group home
placements (29%), nonrelative placements (26%), kin placements (21%), and some residential
(9%) and transitional and independent living (15%) placements.17
Nine youth (21%) stated that they had run away from home prior to entering foster care.
Forty youth (95%) told us that they had run away from care more than one time, 79 percent
reporting between two and eight previous runs. The median number of days youth reported being
42
on the run was 60, with 27 percent gone less than a week, 19 percent gone from 1 to 3 weeks, 15
percent gone 1 to 3 months, 27 percent gone 4 to 12 months, and 12 percent absent from care for
a year or more.18
A number of the young people we interviewed described traumatic and stressful life
events that occurred while they were in foster care, which are summarized in the table below.19
Table 11. Traumatic Experiences (n = 42)
Experience
%
N
Male
Female
Reported abuse or neglect in foster care placement
45
9
7
2
Physically assaulted
45
19
9
10
Death of a parent and/or one or more close relatives
29
12
3
9
Raped or sexually assaulted
21
9
1
8
Incarcerated
17
7
4
3
One or more pregnancies
14
6
Witness to violence
12
5
1
4
Illness (miscarriage, sexually transmitted diseases, serious
mental illness)
17
7
1
6
17
Race, age of entry to DCFS placement and current living circumstances were self-reported at time of interview.
See Appendix B, Table B.1, B.2, Figures D.1, D.2, D.3, D.4, and D.5, which provide distributions of number of
placements, runs, and age at interview.
19
This table does not include events that occurred prior to placement, and they may or may not have been officially
“reported” to DCFS or other authorities.
43
18
The following table compiles the risky circumstances that youth described while on the run:
Table 12. Participation in or Exposure to Risky Situations Reported by Youth While on Run (n = 42)
Behavior
%
N
Male
Female
Drink alcohol
55
23
8
15
Use and/or sell drugs
52
22
6
16
Victim of sexual assault/rape
17
7
1
6
Physically hurt somebody else
14
6
3
3
Been physically hurt
12
5
5
0
Damage property
12
5
3
2
Sleep in unsafe places
12
5
3
2
Perform sexual acts for money
5
2
0
2
Steal or rob
7
3
2
1
Ask for money from strangers
5
2
1
1
What the Young People Told Us: Recurring Themes
In this section, we will attempt to distill from our interviews some commonalities and differences
among the youth in order to learn more about the constellation of experiences that may motivate
them to run. We asked the young people in the interviews to describe their families, to discuss
their past experiences with running away and their most recent run, and to reflect on the context
in which this run occurred—what was going on in their lives and in their placements and what
kinds of relationships and social supports they had.
We present the youth’s stories from their perspective, which does not always correspond
perfectly to the perspective of the adults around them. There is, for example, significant disparity
in the language that youth and adults use to describe their experiences. For both the youth and
adults we interviewed, the word runaway evokes images of homeless youth on the streets,
psychologically and behaviorally troubled youth, prostitution, and a range of other behaviors
44
often labeled risky and illegal. However, youth did not view all of their absences as being on run.
For example, a youth who was “away” to help a family member or who was spending time with
friends outside the placement or who simply returned to placement past the deadline might not
view his or her absence as a run. In this study, we used the youths’ language and definitions to
explore their experiences. Our findings challenge the completeness and accuracy of such legal
and practice jargon as elopement, unauthorized absences, AWOL, missing, on run.
Adopting the youth perspective on these narratives allows us to explore how running may
function to promote and inhibit the youths’ healthy development and well-being in the context of
their experiences in substitute care. Running away was revealed to be a coping behavior and an
attempt to make connections with family, friends, and a community where they sensed (or
hoped) they belonged, were cared about, and were wanted. This was reflected in the language
they used to describe their runs and the reasons why they left their placements. Although the
story that emerged from each interview was unique, taken together the stories showed that these
youth were—like most adolescents—striving to gain autonomy and control, wanting to feel at
once “normal” yet valued for their individuality.20 The challenges of adolescence are heightened
for these young people given their histories with abuse, neglect, life traumas, rejections, and
shifting living environments with both relative and nonrelative caregivers. Many youth reported
feeling as though they had been on their own since they entered the system. They saw their
running as a quest for what they believed was missing in their lives, even though their departures
from their placements did not always produce the desired outcomes.
Despite the fact that the contexts and experiences they encountered while away from their
official placements were often unsafe—and constrained their autonomy and disconnected them
45
from potentially supportive environments and people—it was striking how often their running
reflected healthy desires for family connections, social time with peers, or a better life.
In our thematic analysis and interpretations, we recognized the serious risks they were taking. At
the same time, we resisted pathologizing their behaviors solely because of the places or people
some youth were running to, or the activities in which some were engaged. Instead, we highlight
what part of their behaviors were motivated by developmentally normative desires/needs, what
reflected attempts to cope with their family histories or lives in foster care, and how they viewed
running as an option for solving their problems. How their individual experiences intersected
with their personal capacities and resources often made running away appear to be a viable
option despite the serious dangers. As one key informant suggested:
They’ve been so traumatized, so abused, so neglected. Both by original families as well
as by the system that I believe that generally they think that they’re better off on their
own. That they can take care of themselves.
In the course of both the youth and key informant interviews, three common threads
emerged: the centrality of family, the importance of other adults (e.g., caseworkers, caregivers,
and other professionals), and the struggle for autonomy (i.e., the ability to make choices) and the
drive to access “normative” experiences. Although the youth we interviewed shared many
experiences, the way these experiences interacted to impact them and the way the young people
processed and understood their own experiences were far from uniform. Based on the way the
young people described their experiences, we have sorted them into four loosely defined and
overlapping groups or patterns of motivation that may offer new perspectives for the
20
The term normalcy will be used in this report not to imply some set standard or clinical definition of normality.
The term is used here as the young people understand it, to refer to a sense of belonging and to being similar to other
people.
46
professionals who work with these young people. The common threads mentioned above are
woven throughout the discussion of each of these groups.
The Centrality of the Family of Origin
Across the interviews, the youth described their biological families as exerting a distinct
gravitational pull on them. In some cases, this was manifest in the urge to re-connect or stay
connected. In fact, in many cases, the destination for many runaway youth was the biological
family. They ran there to feel that they belonged or to help their parents or siblings. As one youth
explained:
I think … they should … let’m go stay with they family. Cause … in my situation … that
made me leave.… I’m tell’n’ you, it’s really painful not being with our family. Honestly
… they [caseworkers] … don’t know how you feel on the inside. They don’t know
what’s go’n on in your mind.
A key informant also suggested the importance of family:
Well I think some kids run to their families. I really do think that … Kids who leave bio
parents, I think, are always running from. I don’t always think that kids in foster care are
running from. I sometimes think they’re running to.
Other youth were just as strongly repelled by their biological families—in some cases,
they had been rejected; in others, they recognized the inherent dangers and damage that their
families represented.
My real family I don’t know. I don’t think they need to be on earth. Because something is
really wrong with them. The only person that really make sense to me in my real family
was my father. And he died last year in February. My real family … something wrong,
something is really wrong with them.
Many of the youth we interviewed concluded that to some degree, their families had failed them,
and that they were now on their own. As one youth, whose grandmother refused to take him and
his brother because DCFS wouldn’t pay her enough money, reported:
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My people are just wacko ... I have no relationship with my people ... I feel that since I’m
in the system, I don’t need them now.... I know where she [my mom] is and who she is, I
don’t have a complete relationship with her ... because of the things that she does. My
grandmother doesn’t have time for me and my brother and we feel like since they
neglected us, we can neglect them too.
The view of their families of origin, particularly their birth parents, as representing neglect,
rejection, and abandonment is central to many of their stories. Even for youth who do not
specifically report abandonment, their understanding of the reason for DCFS involvement is that
their parents have failed to take care of them.
I went to … [the psychiatric hospital] and they just left me there.… I was only supposed
to be there for three days, and it turned into four months. And that’s how I got involved
with DCFS, ’cause I was left there.
Other youth describe living with parents and being left for periods of time and having to take
care of younger siblings:
She used to leave us a lot. And I was … the oldest.… There was six of us, so I had to take
on the responsibility to make sure everybody eat … Most a’ time I didn’t go to school
because I couldn’t because she wouldn’t come home some night.… I couldn’t run away
because if I ran away I’d be leaving five innocent kids for no reason.
I’m in this program because my momma wasn’t there, she was locked up when I was 11.
During that time, my dad wasn’t a fit person so he went to his same usual routine and I
didn’t have no mother so I was from home to home.
One youth described his family relationships as a sequence of losses and placement disruptions
with relatives.
I don’t know my dad, my mom is in jail, and I used to live with my uncle but something
happened so I had to leave and my cousin she locked me out the house for 2 weeks, so I
had to spend the weekends over my friend’s house. And my grandma she had a stroke
and she lives with my auntie in Florida.
Some youth experienced parental rejection because their parents didn’t visit them while
they were in foster care; other youth distanced themselves from their parents because they
decided their parent wasn’t trying hard enough to get them out of the system. Consequently,
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youth expressed ambivalence about their families, mothers in particular, and contacts with their
family of origin were more about healing or establishing these relationships than about
protecting or maintaining an existing bond:
And they told my momma, they gave her plenty opportunities like to go to set classes,
you know. And she … could get us back. She came to visit us one time out of 8 years.
And like if it wasn’t … us being the bigger people like she wouldn’t come visit us now.
We go to see her. She don’t come see us, you know. When we feel like being bothered
with her, we feel like saying, “hi” … we go see her.
The Importance of Relationships with Caseworkers, Caregivers, and Other Adults in
Creating a Sense of Family
A caseworker is the second parent regardless, you know.… But y’all, the caseworkers are
our official parents. And I think … we need them more than anything.
In the absence of a connection to a biological family, many youth attempted to “create” family in
various ways in order to access the sense of connectedness, support, and guidance they thought
they needed. Some reach out to foster siblings, and others to caseworkers or foster parents, who
might also serve in the role of kin. One foster youth described her relationship to a foster sibling:
She was in a foster home with me and she still in that same home that I was in … So yeah
that’s my cousin … if I need something no matter ... what she doing … she’ll come
through.… That’s non-replaceable.… This is the family that I wish I had when I was
younger. (emphasis added)
This flexible and fluid definition of family was not unique; these young people deeply
and openly long for a family structure, particularly parental figures. They have not given up
hoping for family connections, or some version of a parent, in ways that often reflected
mainstream constructions of family. When asked “who do you consider family?” one girl
replied:
I thought I wasn’t going to never call nobody mother.… Seem like she [foster mother] is
my real mother, ‘cause when I was a little girl that’s all I wanted ... the simple fact that I
got somebody who cares… the right way.… ‘Cause I would see it on TV. I see it when
I’m walking down the street. Or I see my friend’s mothers ... She was a mother figure,
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everything you want in a mother, and she was good at it.… Been wanting this so long.…
I ... prayed [for a mother]. I had a father … nobody could replace him. But a mother.…
The feeling is just too great.… I don’t even think nature named it yet! You know, how we
got sad, mad, happy? I don’t even think nature named it yet. Because I just can’t find
nothing to explain … it. (emphasis added)
One youth spoke about needing an adult in her placement who can contribute to her confidence
and personal development:
If I had a nice placement that actually really, really, really cared about me and not just the
money … and keeping me at school, talking to me on a more philosophical level.…
Them the things that would have kept me in placement for real. Talking to me,
motivating me to go on, give me a pat on the back. I never received none of that.
Youth saw their caseworkers as potential sources of encouragement, protection, and help in
accessing the resources and types of placement they felt they needed. Several youth described
the connections they had forged with foster families and group home staff:
And one of my staff … she didn’t like for me to run away. That’s why I didn’t never run
away when she was there. I would leave when she was gone but she would be mad. And
that’s when I stopped running away … ’cause I promised her I would never run away
from there no more.
Some young people expected caseworkers to become extensions of their families, and
they defined “good caseworkers” as those who really cared about them and looked out for them.
A number of the young people we interviewed said that caseworkers should have come to find
them when they ran away, using terms like “parent,” “guardian,” and “big brother” to describe
the ideal role of a caseworker.
I had a couple of good caseworkers.… Even though they was always getting on me. But
it made me feel … good. Cause I know that they cared.… They was always there, they
always came check up on me.… She [one caseworker] came up to school.… They just
seem like they cared.… They gave me a reason to do right even if I felt like my family
wasn’t doing the right thing. They was always like a back-up plan.
Youth had a lot of ideas about what their caseworker needed in order to be competent to
work with youth like themselves.
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They need to pick caseworkers right and make them more experienced on kids.... Like
these kids in the system are not like regular kids. Sometimes you got kids that’s
disturbed.… It’s a reason why this child is this way.… The only thing you got to know is
this child want to be loved, and that’s it. And wants to be with the family. Maybe he
wants to be with his family ... maybe he want to be with a family that cares about him.
(emphasis added)
Key informants also recognized the importance of having experienced caseworkers:
Our case workers are kids. Some of them are six years, seven years older than some of
these kids. Sometimes there’s not even that much of a difference… We’re not using our
collective wisdom, which is in our aged case workers and our aged administrators… I
really think that we’d have our best successes with these children if we had seasoned
workers who were past saving the world.
Another key informant echoed:
I think there’s a quote that says “I’ll listen to what you know when I know how much you
care” and so I think there’s a lack of compassion that I see that probably pervades even in
our best efforts as clinicians and as “do-gooders.”
Although most of the youth spoke negatively about their experiences in group or
residential care, a few had positive experiences with staff:
They always worry. In here they are always worried about us. That’s why they always be
down on us like we actually their kids. That’s what I like about it here. That’s why I
never ran away yet cause it’s clean here … and the staff, even though we talk a lot of
stuff about the staff … they be there for us ... all of them, they be on us. Even though we
be complaining and—acting like—kids. They be there for us.
These youth believe that their caseworkers and caregivers are key players in their lives as
foster children. According to one girl, if she were a caseworker for a youth wanting to run away:
I would tell the child to hold on, give me time, so I can find you a good, excellent
placement so you can feel comfortable and you won’t feel ashamed to be in.… I would
try to come out … as often as I can ... call you … Not all kids, but the majority of them,
need special attention. (emphasis added)
The youth saw it as part of the role of caseworkers and staff to search for youth on run. Yet, not
all youth felt that their caseworkers or caregivers would search. Above all, the youth in this
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group wanted to be placed where people care about them, where they are understood, and where
someone knows them as individuals.
I want someone to be there to understand me, to know who I am and all that other stuff. I
want to find out about the staff and I want them to find out about me and let them know
that I ain’t a bad dude like they probably think I am ... and if you get to know me you’ll
say so yourself, but I never got that kind of attention.
It is important to note here that caseworkers are often the only adult who has access to the
child’s complete history. As their placements changed and as they moved to different schools
because of shifts in residence, DCFS case files may be the only documentation that contains their
life histories. This means that as facilitators of other relationships—with schools, with earlier
placements, with family—caseworkers can help provide a sense of consistency and stability as
young people move through the system. It is hard to overestimate the importance of a
relationship with an invested adult who knows these young people, what they have been through,
and where they have come from. As one key informant told us:
We’ve talked about this … there needs to be some centralized system where good data
gets reported and gets put on the kids versus the UIR’s that come through specifically for
runs and unusual incidents related to physical altercations. There needs to be some
centralized system that reports on good stuff so that child gets a balance, there is a
balanced picture by the time the child moves on … It’s about paradigm shift. Then you’re
looking at strength based, you’re looking at value … There is never anything that is
strength based, that has any redeeming quality about the kids at all. And how can that not
be the case?
The Drive for Normalcy
I don’t want to be here no more … I want’a be with my family … like a normal kid. You
don’t feel normal in DCFS.
Although there is little about these young peoples’ experiences that can be seen as normal, it is
important to acknowledge the developmental stage that they are in. Like other teens, they
experience the drive for autonomy and for progressively greater freedom. Unlike other teens,
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their environment offers little safety for experimentation and little flexibility to accommodate
individual preferences.
You ain’t got no control.… You gotta ask to go upstairs … you gotta ask to go
downstairs. But it’s a house though, its suppose be your house but you gotta ask. It’s
crazy. You gotta ask to use the washroom, that’s stupid … Everybody older [here],
everybody teenagers up in here, man. Why would you have to ask to use the washroom?
They are, moreover, missing the linchpin of normalcy that is assumed to offer some inoculation
against the hazards of the street—a nurturing and supportive family. Some youth recognized that
they had missed certain types of experiences in their biological families and were continuing to
miss them in foster care, which reinforced their feelings of not having a “normal” childhood.
When asked what girls her age do for fun, one girl responded:
I really can’t say cause people be tell’n me just act like a little girl and I’m like I don’t
know how. I don’t know how to act like no little girl ... I guess they play’n rope, I mean
play with baby dolls. I’m like I don’t know how to do all that. I don’t know how.
Another youth discussed barriers to accessing normative experiences in socializing with peers in
his neighborhood, whose adolescence was governed by a different set of rules and consequences,
[I] wanna to stay out with my friends and everything. [But] I can’t do the same thing with
them because you know ... I’m a foster child and they ain’t no foster child, so they
consequences ain’t as bad as mine ... I could lose the place and they just get on
punishment or something. (emphasis added)
It’s not that way with foster children. You screw up and you have screwed up. And
there’s a consequence to screwing up if you’re a foster kid that is a wash if you’re not.
Key informant
Many youth mentioned the importance of school in the interviews. For some, it
represents a place to be normal—to be on a basketball team, to be known. For others, it
represents a future and opportunities to get a job and be self-sufficient. A few noted that their
status as foster children made them conspicuously different from their peers. One youth
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explained how he felt stigmatized by adults, who referred to him as a foster child in front of his
peers at school:
People always knew … when the foster parent would like come up to the school. They
would just tell them we were foster kids. And … people all would tease us about being
foster children. And so I really didn’t like have friends at school. I had friends like other
foster children. Because I really didn’t like students at school … they used to always
tease us about being foster children.
Analyzing the Narratives: Revealing Patterns
As we explored how these common threads were woven through the stories of the youth, we
identified four patterns of motivation to run that describe four loosely defined groups of youth.
We could seldom pinpoint one single reason for a run, and most likely, the youth had multiple
reasons for running. However, the patterns we describe in this section may help practitioners and
program planners to develop a more nuanced understanding of how these young people, who
may share many of the same experiences, process them differently, are affected by them
differently, and react to them differently. These patterns and motivations coalesce around the
ways in which youth understood their reasons for being in DCFS, the experiences they had
before and after placement in substitute care, the supports and associations they felt they had
available, and how they understood and processed their individual experiences and the role of
their biological family, peers, caregivers, and caseworkers in providing a supportive network for
them.
Again, in this study we found that running was a way for youth to cope with or respond
to difficult emotions, familial relationships, negative experiences in foster care, and the
challenges of being an adolescent growing up in the child welfare system. It is important to note
that these patterns do not represent hierarchical stages of running or fixed typologies of runners.
We understand that a combination of factors interact to influence a run—including gender, issues
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in placement, access to biological families, previous experiences, and the interpersonal dynamics
and emotional state of the child. These patterns may offer a useful way of thinking with more
complexity about running behaviors as a way of coping and about how the motivations for
running often shape where the youth run to, the length of time they are gone, and what happens
to them while they are on run.
Although these patterns are not mutually exclusive, and youth may well fit more than one
pattern, the identification and description of the phenomena that characterize the patterns may
add depth and perspective to the approaches practitioners take to understanding and working
with youth who have run and youth who may run. The four patterns, as we have called them, are
the following: running to the family of origin, rotating to friends and the streets, running to touch
base, and running at random.
Running to Family of Origin
For a number of the youth in our sample, their runs centered on their family of origin. In fact,
some described their runs as to family rather than from placement.
She [staff] try to stop me from going to visit my family, cause they know that’s really like
the main thing that I care about. I mean I care about other stuff too, but … I really care
about my family and going to see them. (emphasis added)
I went over my Grandma house. Usually when I run away that’s most likely where I’m at
… my Grandma house. The staff here will tell you that. Anytime I leave they call my
Grandma house, that’s where I’m at … that’s about the only place I really feel
comfortable.
My main focus was to be with my family.… And that’s what I ran for. I ran to get back
with my family.
The two times I ran away … I was with my grandmother. I was [also] with my mother
because I was … frustrated.… They told me I couldn’t see my mom or talk to her
anymore, so that really frustrated me.… Because every time I talked to my mom and she
would tell me that she loved me, I would get upset and depressed because my mom never
told me that she loved me.… My mom … gave up one time. And then, she just came
back into my life and I couldn’t see her. I was like, always want to be around my mom.
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It would be an oversimplification to state that this group is marked solely by strong attachments
to and relationships with their families of origin. Some recognize that their families of origin are
neither healthy, safe, nor even reciprocally caring environments.
I love all my family regardless of what they did to me because they done did some crazy
stuff to me. And didn’t matter how … how bad they treated me … when I was in my
other foster homes, I was … in a urge to see them.… If I didn’t see them then I felt like I
was dying.
Really what’s important to me is my family.… They ain’t the best family in the world
but they do look out for me when I need it.
As these youth note, they may have suffered multiple violations at the hands of biological
family members, at times during their runs home to family.
She would just take all her anger out on me … whipping [me] … throwing shoes at me,
pulling my hair, like she … despised me. Like she hated me. Then she used to beat me so
bad that my arms would be bleeding. Skin would be peeling off and bruises real bad on
my face … I didn’t understand that. Cause I was always doing everything she told me
[to] do.
Another youth shared her disappointment in her family of origin, who failed to teach her
about life, and the feeling that she didn’t get what she was supposed to from either her family or
her foster care settings:
I used to argue with my mother and my grandmother … we used to fight.… I was very
angry … I didn’t know what was what. Didn’t nobody teach me. I had to teach myself. [I
was angry] about not being with my mother … having to go through what I went
through.… They didn’t teach me about life.... The only person that could teach you about
that type of stuff is your parents. They can be the only ones because a family that may
think they care about you when you older … you an older child and you get put in
somebody house. They may think they can … treat you like a family member of
whatever. But you really don’t get treated like that all the time.
A foster parent described her experience with youth who continued to return to their families:
And they are so eager to get re-attached, whether it’s good or bad, it’s just that they’ve
been rejected and they just want to try one more time. And they can know it’s bad and
they can articulate and tell you that, but they just cannot get it from within.
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These strong ties to the family of origin or strong hopes for a family connection often
served as a barrier to building connections in their current homes. According to one youth:
I was running away because I didn’t want to be around them and I was running to my
family.
One youth said she ran from:
Foster home, group home, shelters, wherever they placed me that wasn’t around my
family.… And that’s why I ran away ‘cause it wasn’t no home.
It is important to mention here the subset of youth who experienced the loss of a close
family member. For these youth, there was an added dimension to their running that made it both
a vehicle to connect with family, and a way of coping with feeling alone after a parent’s death.
One young girl ran away to be with her mother when her mother was ill but then decided to
return to care when her mother died:
I was set on going to the nursing home where my mother was … I was already confused
because I didn’t know like is my momma going to wake up out of the coma.… I was
confused so I was just doing things that I wanted to do.… I mean my mind was like. My
mother was in a coma … I gave up like I didn’t care no more. I ain’t got nobody to live
for … I don’t have anybody. It’s just me … I dropped out of grammar school to sit at the
nursing home with my mother. I was selling drugs. I was doing a lot of stuff.… When my
mother passed away everything really started to get vicious. Everything just started to get
crazy … I got to be worser than I was … I got tired. I like gave myself up. I went back to
the state.
In our interviews, being around biological family was often equated to being normal. Their
definition of normal means to live in a family, in a loving and caring home, to go to school, and
to be able to play with kids in the neighborhood. One youth told us what would have prevented
her runs:
If I were able to enjoy my childhood, if I was able to see my family on a regular basis. If
I was just able to socialize with the other kids I see running up and down the street, and I
got to stay in the backyard. If it was just more love, more love.
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Their desire for a “real home” was associated with the perception that being in foster care was
not, in fact, being an official family member. As one youth shared:
They didn’t act like they was your family.… They’ll treat you like you an orphan ... buy
you generic cereal, and buy they real kids the real cereal. (emphasis added)
One youth who ran away to family notes that when she was there she felt “special, like I was
wanted.”
In contrast, another youth noted that when she returned from her run, she realized that her
foster family gave her a feeling of being in a “real family.”
When I came back it seemed like they was my real family. They was all so happy
to see me.… Me and her son.… We hated each other. But when I came back he
was like, “I hate to say it but I miss you.” He act like [a] brother towards me. Now
we really act like brothers and sisters.
Rotating to Friends and the Streets
It’s just [like] eating, if you feel like eating, you’re going to eat. I felt like running away
so I left. I ain’t even gone call it running away, I just left. Running away means you got a
problem here and you don’t want to be around that problem. I ain’t never had no problem
… I just didn’t want to be there at that moment in time. I was ready to rotate. I didn’t
want to be there.
I wasn’t never running away from nobody there. Or I wasn’t running away to be with
nobody.… I don’t even look at it as running. This is my life and if I want to be able to
walk out here and go over to my friend’s house. I’m eighteen years old. I shouldn’t have
to tell nobody.… I wasn’t running from nobody! (emphasis added)
Some of the youth we interviewed—mostly young men, and mostly those placed in group
homes—chafed at the rules and restrictions imposed on them in their placements. The quest for
freedom and the need to assert their adulthood were central to their stories of running from
placement.
It’s just I’m 17. I felt I’m a grown adult and I don’t think I have to be in the house being
supervised by staff. I know I can take care of myself … I like to have fun, you know. I
like to go out and kick it, be with friends, just do what normal people do. I don’t like
being in a house with a whole bunch of boys.
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I don’t like to be parented ‘cause I make decisions for myself for a very long time … I
don’t like that word, “parent”.… I know how to survive.
Rather than viewing their rejection of rules and routines solely as oppositional or
reflective of some personal deficit, the young people saw their running away as “normal” in the
context of their experiences in their families and communities of origin. The problem occurs
when their definitions of normal collide with the structure and living environments that are
determined to be normal and appropriate for foster youth their age. It is difficult for a youth who
has been living with adult responsibilities and autonomy to be told that he can’t talk on the phone
after 8 p.m. As one youth shared:
A lot of times the kids grow up before they need to grow up. Before they get taken away
by DCFS. So one then they’re taking away and put in all this structure, they feel like
what’s all these rules I have to follow all of a sudden? And they just want to get out of
there. (emphasis added)
Another youth described in detail her life prior to entering DCFS care and how it felt
normal to her to be on the streets at a young age, and not normal to be in foster care:
We was out on the streets.… Hustling for money like five, four and five years old
walking the streets. We knew the area.… We was comfortable.… And once they came
and took us ... that’s when the problems start occurring. When people put you in …
different environments, of course it’s … hard for a child to adapt.… But it was like we
was … on lock down. Like it was our fault why we was there. They never made it
comfortable for us.… We never had a childhood. But when they came and got me … we
couldn’t go outside. We couldn’t go to the candy store and get … bags of candy. That’s
why we kept running away, cause we wanted what we had back! (emphasis added)
Even when youth recognized that they were not in safe environments, the familiar was at
least somewhat comfortable for them, making their transitions to foster care difficult. One key
informant described youth who ran away from care:
I think I would first of all describe them as incredibly resilient, remarkably creative, and
very fearful. In some instances fearful of not running; fearful of containment and not
necessarily because containment is bad, but because containment is unfamiliar, because
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relationship building is unfamiliar and because structure is unfamiliar. They crave it, but
are absolutely frightened of it.
The fact that many of these youth understand their biological families to be unavailable
may help us understand why they typically do not run to an adult (e.g., biological family
member). Their running patterns, which were generally short, provided a temporary sense of
freedom and escape from foster care and “the system,” satisfying the desire to have a sense of
autonomy and independence that they remembered having while living in their families and
communities of origin. For example, one youth described his experience in one of his foster
homes:
You had to follow all these rules at his house, and you couldn’t go out and play
basketball with your friends…. We went to church every night at 7:00. (emphasis added)
Another youth noted how rules banning outside food in their group home setting would become
a reason for running:
Some kids run because of the rules that’s put in … like we can’t bring a cheeseburger
home. We have to eat the [group home] food.
Many youth equate being in foster care to being in prison and describe their runs as
escapes:
I just needed a break—completely—from this place.
Another youth who stayed on the streets and slept in train stations while he was on run said:
I wanted a little time for myself. Wanted … to get away from the system.… There was
always staff around and … all these rules I had to follow all the time. So sometimes I just
wanted to get a break. So I left…. Just sometimes, you know, like all the time you trap in
places you just want to get away.
Some described their placements as being locked up or put on lock down.
It was like they was tying us down … it wasn’t no life…. We had to eat at a certain time
… we couldn’t eat they had our stuff put up. We couldn’t hold our own money. They was
just treating us like we was locked down.… That mostly the reason why … the kids there
was running away.
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The youth who “rotate” to the street described themselves as grown, in large part because
they have had to take care of themselves. They have also had to initiate their contacts with
parents, and many sought connections to their siblings and, in some cases, cousins and extended
family. Presumably because some harbored feelings of anger and may have already foreclosed
on their hopes for change in their parents, these youth used their running behaviors to reach out
to friends as their family unit. As one of these youth explained:
Like … I would probably run just to be with my friends, that what we probably call
family … if your family not treating you right … I mean who can you run to, your
friends. They the ones that really got your back. (emphasis added)
These young people rely upon their friends and siblings, as their family, to meet their
needs for belonging, safety, and connection. They also recognize that they will remain in the
foster care system until adulthood and will most likely not return home to live with their
biological parents. Therefore, their runs are generally not long ones, most likely because they are
aware of their limited family resources and understand the system as a resource that can at least
provide for their basic necessities. This group has assumed that their survival in the system and
into adulthood is up to them:
I done been away from my momma long enough to realize that she’s not coming back.
That this is what I have, this is what I’m going through, and this is what I’m going to
have to go through until I’m twenty-one.
Youth motivated by the need for autonomy and accustomed to a degree of independence
were not optimistic about the capacity of caseworkers, foster parents, or group home staff to
prevent their runs.
They really can’t do nothing to prevent … they do try to talk you out of it. Tell you the
consequences, the positives and negatives of it. But like I say, kids are gonna be kids,
men are gonna be men, they gonna do what they want to do.
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Another youth explained:
There’s nothing you could change, because kids are going to do what they want to do
regardless of how much better or worse DCFS or anybody can, will make it.… We rebel
because that’s what we do. It’s just something that kids do … Maybe it’s because of the
stuff we’ve been through.
And a key informant agreed:
To prevent them from running away? Oh, I couldn’t even tell you. I mean, it doesn’t
matter what a child tells an adult, they [the adult] gonna do what they want anyway so
that’s why I really don’t say much to adults. I talk to people my age, since I feel they’re
listening, but adults like 25 and up, I feel like they gonna do what they want.
Some did, however, acknowledge positive relationships with the staff at their group home
and suggested that at times, they listened to the staff.
They … stopped me a couple times from leaving. They told me, “you making a lot’a
progress, don’t mess it up because you doing this.” They … stopped me a coupl’a times,
but other times I just had to get out of here.
When asked what might prevent a run, one young person suggested more reasonable
rules and one wanted more information about, and control over, his future in DCFS care.
Youth with this running pattern were neither motivated nor deterred from running by the
consequences they might face on return. When asked about consequences, one replied, “Nothing
… [I] just dropped a level.”
Another said:
They just said, “You’re not supposed to do that,” gave me my consequences. And they
just lost all that trusted that they had.
Other youth noted that their return involved being medically examined.
Then they got to test you and take you back and all that … to make sure you come back
the same way you left … They give you shots, and AID[S] tests and all that.
What was largely absent when they described their return to care was the feeling that they had
been missed or that their reception influenced their decisions to run in the future.
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These youth compare their family histories and their current adolescence with those of
youth not in the system.
Some of these kids are fortunate to be with their parents … this is … what I tell them,
“You all don’t need to talk to your parents like that because you all fortunate to be with
them and know who they is … unlike me, I don’t have any parents.” I do have parents but
they not doing parents’ things like they should.
Moving between different contexts—interacting within the world of foster care and then
interacting with peers not in foster care—can be difficult to navigate. One youth said:
I mean you’re a teenager … you know? You’ll watch … TV shows, you’ll see teenagers
have fun. You’re like, “Dang man, that’s the life for me!” [But] once you finally here
you’re like man, no this is the life for me now.… This is fun. When you get outside [with
friends] they’re, “Come on man, that’s not fun.” (emphasis added)
This group of youth tend to rely on their same-age peers for support and a sense of normalcy, a
fact that may be useful to caseworkers, group home staff, and caregivers who work with youth to
build a supportive network.
Touching Base and Maintaining Relationships
Some youth run both to family and to friends; they seem to need to “touch base” in order to
maintain their relationships with biological family, foster family, friends, and other people and
places important to them. Paradoxically, they also need to run away from these same people
from time to time. Their runs tend to be short, and they usually return to their placements. This
yo-yo effect was described by a young person:
You basically running to get away from people, you know. You running so you can get to
people that, you know ... care about you, at least you think care about you … But you
know they don’t … so that’s why you getting away from them.
According to one key informant:
There’s this kind of yo-yo effect that they have with regard to try’n to reach back and
work with family issues in whatever capacity they can and still try’n to maintain their
placements. They always want to make sure they have a home base.
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One youth, when asked if she runs to something or away from something, responded:
I’d say both, because I didn’t like the placements or the rules.… I just … can’t live under
other people’s supervision. Some people can. Some kids is better with living in group
homes. And some kids is better living on they own. I do better on my own.
Earlier we discussed the pull of the biological family as one motivation to run. This group
does not describe their running as a persistent longing to be with family. Nor do they talk about
being rejected by, or rejecting, their biological parents, as do some youth in the second pattern
group. Instead, these youth seem to be attempting to establish an eclectic community of care that
combines both friends and family of origin—each with a specific function. Likewise, youth in
this group tended to describe their families—particularly their mothers—as friends rather than as
parents.
My mom couldn’t tell me what to do. My mom she already know she didn’t raise me …
Me and my mom just now getting close.
Another youth who was removed at birth described his mother as a friend and home base that he
checks in with.
I just see her, you know … I ain’t really close to her like that though, you know. I just see
her; I look at her as my friend. I see her when I like visits my uncle … or he’ll tell me
where ... mama live, and then I’ll go and see her, see how she doing … Make sure she
okay, then after that, you know, I just leave.
Some of these youth ran away to fulfill what they perceived as obligations to their family
of origin. These obligations are also recognized by key informants as a reason for youth to leave
their placement:
When Mom is having any kind of issues, if Mom is in jeopardy of loose’n her place, if
Mom is pregnant again with a new baby, if Mom has relapsed in terms of her recovery.
Whatever those particular issues are that she’s deal’n with our girls are impacted by that
and they will run.
Youth in this group also used their families as a reference point to motivate them to do better.
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I always had my own mind. I wasn’t stupid … I knew what was right, what was wrong. I
knew what to do from watching my brothers and sisters and my mom and ‘em. I know I
could do better for myself.
The young people in this pattern group seem to be trying to maintain multiple “home
bases” and familial memberships. They talked a great deal about the difficulties and successes
they had integrating into their foster families and group homes. A number of these youth
discussed the dynamics that occurred in foster homes between the biological children of foster
parents and foster youth.
It was good … even though she had her little grandchildren … It wasn’t favoritism in the
house. She treated me, like … I was one of hers and everything. She even, you know …
invited my mother over and everything.
Youth in this group had mixed experiences with their caseworkers, and some talked
specifically about the importance of trust and being able to talk with the caseworker so that they
listen, and some older youth were able to articulate how difficult it is for them to want to trust
adults:
After all this stuff happen to you, it’s kinda hard … to actually let … that person get even
three feet range of you, you know … You don’t want nobody close to you no more after
that…Especially if it happened when you was little … you can’t understand it, you ain’t
trying to understand it.
Like the other groups, this set of youth knows that they are in the foster care system for
the long haul. This makes caseworkers, staff, and foster parents important parts of their
transitions into adulthood.
If she would’ve … gave me a little more trust … just believed me and … been
trustworthy of me … just realize where I’m coming from … just think about when they
was a little kid, you know.
One explained:
[If] you got a caseworker who you see … care about you. Always calling you to check up
on you. Come see you … you’ll want to be motivated to do stuff. You got somebody that
believe in you, you know … you gon’ try to make them proud and stuff.
65
This group of youth had some very specific ideas about their future and what a normal
future holds. In some ways, this served as a resource for them in inspiring a return from a run to
go to school, or making better decisions than a sibling or family member had made. One youth
whose sibling is currently in college stated:
My future … after I get done with high school I want to go to a far away college, do four
year for Architecture and then … have a family and just work.
Another youth who graduated early from high school said:
I really want to work with kids, I always wanted to do that…. Be a therapist or
something.… I mean I know how they’ll be thinking cause I used to think the same way.
One youth who performed a rap about his life in foster care shared that he wants to:
Become a rap artist or if that fail, become a mortician.
Although some youth are working more strategically than others toward their goals, we
tried not to underestimate the importance and pull of their many relationships in moving them
toward adulthood.
Running at Random
I do not know. I just know it was a summer day. I was just walk’n to the restaurant. He
was in there … started talk’n to me. I’m like, “Okay, I ain’t got nothin’ else to do. Don’t
nobody care about me anyway, so leave.” … I left with just the clothes I had on my back,
shoes, and whatever … I’m gone.
Among the young people in this group were girls who had experienced an extraordinary number
of challenging experiences and traumas, both in their families of origin and during their foster
care stays, such as the death and/or incarceration of family members, sexual assaults,
miscarriages, giving birth, and having a child removed by DCFS. However, when asked why
they run, they speak generally about the need for a sense of freedom from stress and worry.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason for these runs; these young girls uniformly feel un-cared66
for and un-attached, and their runs seem triggered by nearly random opportunities, such as an
impulse to see the ocean or an invitation from friends or strangers. One youth explained why she
ran out of state:
To have fun and not be worried and stress free, and get stuff and … do what I want to do
… just … have fun, a vacation. But it wasn’t no vacation.
Another youth described her runs similarly:
It was fun ‘cause I didn’t have to worry about no grown up saying “Make sure you come
back at 8:00”… my first time running away it was with [a foster sister] I take as my older
sister. She took me with her, she ran and we stayed at her boyfriend’s house … We just
sat up all night and talked and watched TV. And that was like fun for me.
One 16-year-old who was on run for 9 months and ultimately returned on her own described her
running as an emotional cure:
I was like you know what? I’ve never seen the ocean you know. I have seen the Gulf of
Mexico but I have never seen the ocean that’s it. I’ll go to the ocean that will cure it right.
These youth ran away for extended periods of time (from 3 months to 4 years), to
unfamiliar destinations, and stayed with strangers. Even those who ran with friends did not run to
safe places. In looking for freedom and a “vacation,” their lives on run were often more
constraining than had they stayed at their foster or group homes. One youth in particular
recounted being “kept like an animal” locked in a room for part of her 4-year run when she
stayed with a 40-year-old man.
The last time I ran away I was with her [foster sibling] again.… She took me to her
friends’ house and it was the manager that stayed next door … he tried to talk to me and I
talked to him and we went out a couple of times, I moved in.… I stayed with him for 4
years.
She continued:
He got abusive. The first 6 months that me and him used to mess around with each other
was like I was an animal, he would lock me up in the house ‘cause that’s the kind of
authority he had ... then he had the little bars up on his front door and his back door, so if
I wanted to get out I had to go through the window … Like my friend she would … try to
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take the bars off the door. I said, “Girl just forget it we’ll just wait until he gets off from
work.” It was an everyday thing for like 6 months straight.
These girls were highly impulsive, as exemplified by one who ran away from DCFS
because:
I had heard a rumor that the state was going to take me out of my grandmother’s house
because my mom doesn’t like my grandma.… And I was like “Oh man they are going to
get me and they are going to put me here”… so I started packing up my stuff and I was
like Nana I don’t know what I’m going to do and I mean I basically stole off in the
middle of the night and I found myself in Atlanta and I found myself after Atlanta in Los
Angeles.
They often chose to run with a friend, and none ran to their families of origin.
They’ve got a boyfriend or girlfriend so I guess you can call that a significant other in
terms of that and they just want to hang just want to be with them and they just go. It’s
not so much partying. It’s not so much security or fear but they just want to be with that
person for a while and then it turns out not like how they thought it would be and then
they come back.
Key informant
Although one youth ran to an adult she referred to as her godmother, all other youth ran
to their friends or to the streets where they met adult males with whom they stayed while on run.
I went to a hotel with a guy and we just pretty much, he just took care of me basically.
We stayed in hotels the whole time. We went to different hotels like every week and
changed up like that.
What distinguishes this group of youth is the fact that their runs are not marked by their
longing for someone from their family of origin or something that they had with friends and
siblings that they now miss. Their stories reflect a longing to find something “out there” that they
have never experienced but strongly desire. They went to great lengths and traveled long
distances in their search. Although some now are in foster placements that hold the potential to
be caring environments for them, many believe no one cares. As one youth noted:
I ran away … because I felt alone. I felt everybody, the world, was against me and I
couldn’t take the pressure no more. I was just ready to run just go, go, go.… I been
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through a lot … I done did everything in the book. I done sold drugs. I prostituted. I did
all that, and it’s not worth it. (emphasis added)
Another youth reported running because she felt alone after having her baby, who was the
product of her second rape:
I was basically … try’n to do it on my own. To show myself and to prove to them and …
try to raise my baby without anybody help because I had no one left for me. I had this
baby on my own. Did none of my family members come … I’m here by myself … It was
some hard times … I lived … with my friend … she decided … to put me out. I was out
… on the street for two months. But I kept myself up. I was clean everyday.
Although, in some cases, the girls’ feelings of being alone in the world were accurate
reflections of their social support networks, in other cases there might have been resources for
them both in their families of origin and their foster families or group homes. Some of their
stories of returning home indicated that their biological families offered resources that they had
dismissed. In one case, a youth noted that her family was searching for her even though she only
told her friend where she was while on run:
My grandmother, my mother was trying to get in contact with me … My auntie was …
The only one that knew my whereabouts was my best friend … she was like the only
person that knew.
One youth, who ran for 9 months, believed her biological mom would reject her if she
contacted her while on run:
What if she all out slams the door in my face because the reason I’m in the system cause I
got into a physical confrontation with her husband … I was kind of thinking … well she
did choose him over me … so it was like … you know, my mom hates me and what if
she slams the door in my face, and then I was like … my mom wouldn’t slam the door in
my face. And then I was like wait this is the same lady who beat the crap out of me a
bunch and like she would slam the door in my face … so … it was a big internal conflict.
(emphasis added)
Another youth shared how running away was a search for love:
I just been look’n for somebody just to love me and stuff. I mean I got family and stuff
of mine … [but] I felt like no one even loved me. Sometimes I still feel that way. Like
my family don’t love me.
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The importance for youth to know they are loved was emphasized by a key informant:
If they’re in a situation where they are feeling loved if they are feeling that whatever they
are saying is being heard … don’t necessarily have to agree with them but they are being
heard and people are trying to work through with them I think they are less likely to run.
This group discussed at length their confusion about who they should trust and not being
able to trust foster parents even when they knew they could. As one youth described:
I didn’t get bad till I got here and this when the person treat me good. I don’t know
what’s wrong. Why it’s so backwards like that. Start acting up with her, you know.
Although some youth ultimately found family connections they relied upon, others
continued to struggle with finding some version of “family” or a caring collection of adults.
Toward Adulthood with Resilience and Hope
I can’t do it by myself. I need your help; I can’t explain the pain that I feel inside; I just
arrived to another destination; smoking some weed cause I need the concentration; but
every time I come up somebody’s trying to shut me down; I feel so sad but what can I do
now; I’m outside in the cold and life is so bold like a living stone, I’m on my own, I
guess I’ll be doing it till I’m grown; a sure thing just trying to get some wings; I feel no
more pain; I’m stuck in this game full of anger and frustration; my mind telling me no but
it’s full of temptation; so when I go back home I’m on my own, I’m gonna come back
and show these people that I’m grown’; ain’t nothing changed I just got the same old pain
with a new plan.
Rap recited by youth in response to an interview question
Many of these youth have grown up in reverse. They have had to fend for themselves at too
young an age, experienced far more than their share of life traumas, and have lived experiences
that prove the world is a hostile environment. Yet, they were often held to expectations of their
adjustments to foster care that did not map well onto the realities of their backgrounds. Their
narratives suggest that their—perhaps unrealized and unstated—goals were to have a childhood,
get a childhood, or escape being treated as a child because they have adjusted to growing up too
70
quickly. Key informants and foster parents all recognized the effects that growing up too fast has
had on this group of children.
I think the challenges are these kids are in these emerging adult bodies and have
emerging adult thoughts and desires and wishes and the challenge is to realize that
they’re not adults. That they’re still young children in many ways, and often in more
ways than children who have been raised within a family.
Key informant
This point cannot be overstated. We must remember that these are the experiences of
youth. Though they are clearly young people who pose a unique set of challenges, it is important
to remember the ways in which their needs are similar to other youth their age, and to consider
how their childhood development has been shaped by their experiences—experiences that are not
shared by their same-age peers.
Some of these youth made astute observations about the consequences of their running
and how it added a degree of difference to the way the world views them. Although all youth
distinguished between “good” reasons to run (e.g., being abused) and “bad” reasons to run (e.g.,
disliking rules), a few youth also discussed thinking about the multiple consequences of having a
history and life story as “a runaway.” One 16-year-old female urged:
Think about … the natural consequences as well as the social consequence of what you
are doing … A natural consequence is if you run away you make things a little more
difficult—you might have to find a place to stay … But the social consequences are you
get … a stigma. Like, “Oh you’re a runaway, you’re a street kid, you probably sold drugs
or you probably did … this and that …” It might not necessarily be true, so you might not
want to carry that…. You have to look at this from as many angles as you’re capable of
looking at it, and make the decision that is best for you. (emphasis added)
Although the youth were not all equally reflective, most of the stories they told showed
resilience and great diversity in the constellation of challenges they face. To have described all of
their activities as “running away” would have oversimplified their absences from care,
pathologized their choices to leave care when they felt they were being mistreated, and ignored
71
the fact that these are young people who are trying to cope with overwhelming life events—both
current and in their past.
Although there were differences among these young people, a common theme was hope
for a connection with others who they believed cared about them and understood them, who they
could make proud.
That was the gutter I came from. But, you know, what I’m about to build is gon’ be
something like a swan … It’s gon’ be better than that. Especially if I have the ability and
… the strength … to make it. (emphasis added)
These young people will not be adopted into a family that can help them grow into
adulthood. And even though some of the youth in this study are placed with relatives, they are
still aware of their status as “foster children.” Clearly, there are limitations inherent in group care
settings that prevent them from providing a “homelike” environment for all of the youth who live
there at any given time. But their stories call for our attention, as this is a group of youth who
must emerge from foster care ready for adulthood. Many were in the process of this transition at
the time of our study.
In closing, it may be helpful to return to a key informant who asked, “How do you say
don’t do it when they don’t have anything to lose?” The challenge is “to be more than we are”
and give them something they want to hold onto.
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Biehal, N. & Wade, J. (1999). Taking a chance? The risks associated with going missing from
substitute care. Child Abuse Review, 8, 366-376.
Biehal, N. & Wade, J. (2000). Going missing from residential and foster care: Linking
biographies and contexts. British Journal of Social Work, 30, 211-225.
Booth, R., Zhang, Y., & Kwiatkowski, C. (1999). The challenge of changing drug and sex risk
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Courtney, M. & Barth, R. (1996). Pathways of older adolescents out of foster care:
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Courtney, M., Terao, S., & Bost, N. (2004). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of
former foster youth: Conditions of youth preparing to leave state care in Illinois. Chapin
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Courtney, M. & Wong, Y. (1996). Comparing the timing of exits from substitute care.
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Fasulo, S., Cross, T., Mosley, P., & Leavey, J. (2002). Adolescent runaway behavior in
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Hartman, C. R., Burgess, A. W., & McCormack, A. (1987). Pathways and cycles of runaways:
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APPENDIX A. SELECTED RESEARCH PERTAINING TO RUNNING AWAY FROM FOSTER CARE
Citation
Research Questions
Database/Sample
Method of Analysis
Key Findings
Angenent, H. L., Balthasar, M. What is the relationship
& Shane, P. G. (1991). Structural of emotional
problems in institutional care for responsiveness and
authoritarianism to the
youth. Journal of Health and
success of child welfare
Social Policy, 2(4), 83-98.
institutions as measured
by running away?
Questionnaires from
200 youth and their
caregivers from
Netherlands child
welfare group homes.
Cross-sectional
descriptive, matchedpair t-tests on a
warmth/coldness scale.
• Runaways differed significantly from nonrunaways in their
perception of their early upbringing. Runaways qualified
their earlier upbringing as “colder” than nonrunaways on a
warmth/coldness scale.
• Runaways saw the upbringing at home as well as in
placement as more authoritarian than nonrunaways.
• Workers/caregivers reported being more authoritarian with
youth who eventually ran away than with nonrunaways.
• Nonrunaways differed from runaways in perceiving the
group home as being more authoritarian than their families.
Biehal, N. & Wade, J. (1999). What are the immediate
Taking a chance? The risks
and long-term risks
associated with going missing associated with running
from substitute care. Child Abuse away from substitute
care?
Review, 8, 366-376.
Caregiver and social
worker surveys on 210
selected runs and all
runs of another 272
youth from 32 British
care settings.
Descriptive statistics of
demographics and
runaway profile
characteristics.
• Two profiles identified: those who ran or stayed out, and
those who ran to be with friends or family.
• Risks included: sexual exploitation, criminal behaviors, and
substance abuse; high-frequency running was associated with
detachment from school and caregivers.
• Group care dynamics mattered: some youth were led into
prostitution while in care and encouraged to run; there were
“group escapes” in which several left and committed crimes
together.
• No evidence that repeated runs led to longer and riskier
future runs.
Matched 100
runaways to 100 nonrunaways on sex, age,
placement type.
What difficulties does
running away from care In-depth interviews
present for practitioners? with 36 youth and
their workers.
Biehal, N. & Wade, J. (2000).
Going missing from residential
and foster care: Linking
biographies and contexts. British
Journal of Social Work, 30, 211225.
Caregiver & social
What is the relative
worker surveys on 210
influence of the
selected runs and all
substituted care
runs of another 272
environment and of
youth from 32 British
personal biography in
shaping patterns of going care settings.
missing?
In-depth interviews
with 36 youth and
their workers.
Qualitative analysis of
interviews (methods
undisclosed).
Multivariate analysis to
distinguish “runaway”
and “friends” profiles as
well as those with a first
run occurring at home
vs. in care (“home” vs.
“care”).
Qualitative analysis of
interviews and focus
groups.
14 focus groups.
A-1
• “Friends” profile youth were older, lived in a foster home,
and ran fewer times; “runaway” profile youth were younger,
in residential placements, and had more past runs.
• Reasons for running within the same youth changed as they
aged.
• Negative peer culture in residential homes influenced running
by peer encouragement to run or in order to avoid bullying.
• “Home” youth were older (teens) and more likely to be
voluntary placements while “care” youth had an association
between unstable placements and running frequency.
• “Home” youth had patterns of detachment that began before
placement and were less influenced by placement.
Citation
Research Questions
Database/Sample
Method of Analysis
Multinomial logistic
regression with three
outcomes: (1) reaching
18 while still in care, or
2,653 youth 17+ years legally emancipated, (2)
old who had been in family reunification,
care at least 18 mos. placement with relative,
and were exiting from or adoption, (3)
foster care.
unsuccessful exit (90%
runners).
Key Findings
• 23% had a final discharge status of “unsuccessful.”
• Longer placement increased the odds of emancipation and
decreased odds of family reunification.
• Kinship placement increased the odds of emancipation or
family reunification (vs. unsuccessful outcome).
• Multiple care spells increased the odds of an unsuccessful
discharge. Stability within a given spell did not affect the
discharge outcome.
• Many multiple exits were lengthy runaway episodes that
were unsuccessful attempts at family reunification.
Courtney, M. E. & Barth, R. P.
(1996). Pathways of older
adolescents out of foster care:
Implications for independent
living services. Social Work,
41(1), 75-83.
What factors are
associated with final
discharge outcomes
among foster youth in
California?
Administrative data
from the California
foster care database.
Courtney, M. E. & Wong, Y. I.
(1996). Comparing the timing of
exits from substitute care.
Children and Youth Services
Review, 18(4/5), 307-334.
How do child, family,
and system variables
contribute to the timing
of three types of exit
from substitute care:
discharge to parent,
relative, or guardian;
adoption; running away
from care?
Administrative data
from the California
foster care database.
All 8,625 children up
to 16 years old
entering California
foster care over 6-mo.
period and monitored
over 4 years.
Competing-risk analysis
using a Cox
proportional-hazards
model for the likelihood
of the exit types.
• 6% of those who exited by 1992 did so by running away.
• Almost half of runaways did not return at all and more than
80% of those who re-entered had run more than a week.
• The hazard of runaway exits was highest in the first few
months of care and much higher than adoption exits. Running
stabilized about 4-5 months into care.
• The odds of exiting due to running were much higher than
due to adoption for the first months in care.
• Risk of exiting by running was higher for older youth and
girls.
• Children placed in care for reasons other than abuse and
neglect were more likely than others to run from care.
English, N. D. & English, L. M.
(1999). A proactive approach to
youth who run. Child Abuse and
Neglect, 23(7), 693-698.
What common issues
related to the family of
origin and behavioral
issues distinguish youth
who run from care from
those who do not?
Administrative data
from one agency in
Newfoundland.
Descriptive statistics on
demographics and
runaway characteristics.
• 12 of 65 youth ran for a total of 31 times.
• 2 boys and 10 girls ran.
• All runners but one were in emergency care or just
transitioned from emergency care.
• 4 youth had also run from foster homes in the past.
• Runners had a higher rate of suicide ideation, more school
problems, more child welfare placements, and more
behavioral problems.
65 youth from a single
agency: 12 runners,
and 53 systematically
selected comparisons.
A-2
Citation
Research Questions
Database/Sample
Method of Analysis
Fasulo, S. J., Cross, T. P.,
Mosley, P., & Leavey, J. (2002).
Adolescent runaway behavior in
specialized foster care. Children
and Youth Services Review,
24(8), 623-640.
What is the scope of
running away from
treatment foster care, the
predictors of it, and how
can this knowledge be
used in a managed child
welfare network?
Ongoing outcome data Descriptive statistics on
from DSS in Boston temporary and
permanent runs.
and Chelsea, MA.
Hartman, C. R., Burgess, A. W.,
& McCormack, A. (1987).
Pathways and cycles of
runaways: A model for
understanding repetitive
runaway behavior. Hospital and
Community Psychiatry, 38(3),
292-299.
Why do urban
adolescents run away
from home? Why do
runaways return home?
Survey of 149 youth Descriptive statistics on
(recruited volunteers) demographics and scale
using an emergency measures.
shelter in Toronto,
Canada.
Kashubeck, S., Pottebaum, S.,
and Read, N. (1994). Predicting
elopement from residential
treatment centers. American
Journal of Orthopsychiatry,
64(1), 126-135.
What patient
characteristics predict
runaway behavior in
child and adolescent
patients in a residential
treatment facility?
All 101 runners from
two Iowa residential
treatment programs
(long and short) over
5-year period. A
matched comparison
group of 83 youth
from the same facility.
All 147 youth served
in a specialized foster
care program over a 3year period.
Logistic regression
analysis to predict
permanent runs (away
more than 2 weeks).
Each case was coded
for a number of
individual and family
predictor variables.
A-3
Key Findings
• 44% ran away at least once and 22% ran away permanently.
• 66% of all runners left the first time within 6 months of
placement.
• 32% who had at least one temporary run also ran
permanently, while only 17% of those without runaway
history ran permanently.
• 44% of permanent runners ran to biological family, 39% ran
to a friend, and 17% ran to a friend or family in the
community of origin.
• Ethnicity, age, length of stay, and history of sexual abuse
were not significant predictors of runaway behavior in the
multivariate model.
• Girls were 3 times more likely to run permanently than boys.
• More therapy sessions (10+) decreased the odds of running
away permanently.
• 37% ran from a group home, foster home, or detention.
• A new cycle of running began when the youth “adopted a
new launching base.”
• Youth ran on average nearly nine times; 45% had been away
between a month and a year.
• 73% reported having been beaten while on the run and
another 31% having had sex against their will.
• Cognitive confusion over locus of control: 76% believed
others could have controlled the events that led to their
running away.
• A history of prior runs was associated with the current runs.
• Among the older youth, a suspected history of sexual abuse
distinguished the runners from nonrunners.
• Youth diagnosed with an affective disorder were more likely
to run.
• Youth who had had the rights of both parents terminated
were more likely to run.
• Youth who ran away were not more likely to have been
adopted than the youth who did not run away.
• Long-term treatment program runners had less stable and
more extensive treatment histories than nonrunners.
Citation
Research Questions
Database/Sample
Method of Analysis
Key Findings
• Youth were categorized into two groups: “runners” do not
intend to return home, and “in-and-outers” use running as a
temporary coping mechanism.
• 53% of runners reported running from child welfare facilities,
while 30% of in-and-outers reported running from child
welfare facilities.
• 52% of the “runners” had been on the run for 2 months or
more; while 51% of the “in-and-outers” had been on the run
2 weeks or less.
• 57% of runners were 2 years behind in school; 80% of inand-outers were either in school or planned to return.
• Those who have experienced physical or sexual abuse were
more likely to be among the runners.
Kufeldt, K. & Nimmo, M.
(1987). Youth on the street:
Abuse and neglect in the
eighties. Child Abuse & Neglect,
11, 531-543.
Descriptive statistics.
What are the needs and 489 runaway and
problems of runaways as homeless youth in
well as causative familial Canada, snowball
method over one year.
and systemic factors
influencing their
behavior?
Miller, T.A., Eggertson-Tacon,
C., and Quigg, B. (1990).
Patterns of runaway behavior
within a larger systems context:
The road to empowerment.
Adolescence, 25(98), 271-289.
To understand the
phenomenon of running
with a systems
perspective.
Case studies of 9
Canadian youth in
residential treatment
who had run away.
Selection process not
presented.
Theory- and
hypothesis-driven
analysis of interviews.
Runners were sorted
into pre-defined
classification groupings
based on their views of
running, the severity of
running, and parental
reaction.
• The majority ran away as a result of family conflict and ran
from care in reaction to the rules.
• Running increased in severity after placement for the
majority.
• Parents of both groups were equally concerned about running
behavior.
• Parents are most concerned about their children’s running
when it is less severe, and give up as it becomes more severe.
• Intervening is difficult because running is often viewed by
youth simultaneously as solution and problem.
Nesmith, A. (2002). Predictors
of running away from foster
care. Dissertation; University of
Wisconsin-Madison.
Which individual,
family, and child welfare
factors predict running
away after intake to
foster care and the
timing of running once
in care?
Administrative,
questionnaire, and
CBCL data on 343
youth served over a 2year period in
Minnesota and
Wisconsin.
Multiple failure time
hazard analysis
modeling the odds of
running away.
• Nearly a quarter (23%) of the youth had run at least once.
• The hazard of running increased with time in foster care.
• The risk of running away increased with age, higher CBCL
externalizing scores, a history of running away, and for Native
Americans.
• The risk was decreased for youth who experienced a change in
permanency plan during their foster care spell and when the
foster home had a high assessment score.
• The accumulation of risk factors increased the chances of
running for all youth, more so for males and those with a
running history.
A-4
APPENDIX B. SAMPLING, DATA COLLECTION, AND DATA ANALYSIS
METHODOLOGIES FOR THE QUALITATIVE STUDY
The individuals sampled for qualitative interviews were identified from the Integrated Database
on Children’s Services in Illinois. Specifically, we drew on DCFS Child and Youth Centered
Information System (CYCIS) data that were incorporated in the database through December 31,
2003. We will describe below the conditions under which we chose youth and foster parents to
be included in our study.
Sample Selection
Youth Sample
The goal of the youth interview process was to talk to forty young people in substitute care who
had a history of running away from their substitute care placements. We used two variables to
stratify the sample: (1) membership in the “charter” group, and (2) type of case management.
Members of the “charter” group were young people who were on run when Bryan Samuels
became the director of DCFS in May 2003. Director Samuels made it a priority to find these
young people and place them in safe, appropriate placements. Members of the non-“charter”
group included any young person who had run since May 2003 and returned between October 1,
2003, and December 31, 2003. The two groups were mutually exclusive, so that a “charter”
youth who had continued to run would be included in the “charter” group and not in the non“charter” group.
The second stratification variable was the type of case management. By type of case
management we are referring to the kind of agency supervising the child at the time of his or her
last runaway episode. The first type is DCFS supervision; the second type is private agency
supervision.
B-1
Because we wanted to interview youth in Cook County, it was necessary to geocode the
address of the placement of the youth on December 31, 2003. We also limited the sample to
youth age 12 or older on this date and youth whose cases were still “open” with DCFS. Based on
these three criteria, our sample included 250 youth.
The distribution of this sample population by stratification variables follows:
Table B.1. Runaway Study Populations
Charter Group
Member
DCFS case
31
management
Private agency case
46
management
Non-Charter Group
Member
97
76
From each of the four cells we randomly sampled 25 cases, totaling 100 cases, that we
then sent to the DCFS Guardian Administrator to be approved to interview. Of these 100 cases,
97 were approved by the Guardian to be contacted by interviewers. Each of the three excluded
cases came from a different cell in the above table. This left 25 possible cases to be fielded from
the non-“charter,” DCFS-supervised group and 24 from each of the other three cells.
Ten youth cases each were then assigned to four interviewers, who began contacting the
youth and/or their caregivers to schedule interviews. The interviewers’ diligent efforts followed
strategic procedures in order to find even the most difficult to contact youth. (See Runaway
Interview Pool table below.) Interviewers were also diligent in recording each contact attempt,
time, and date.
Despite the challenges of interviewing a population that is by definition difficult to
locate, we interviewed a fairly balanced sample totaling 46 youth (of which 42 were available in
time for this report’s analysis). The final sample population of all 46 youth is as follows:
B-2
Table B.2. Runaway Interview Sample
Case Management
DCFS group
Private agency
TOTAL
Charter Group
Member
9
11
20
Non-Charter
Group Member
11
15
26
Total
20
26
46
The following table tallies the results of our efforts to contact and interview the 100
youth randomly sampled from the 250 youth who fit the sample criteria:
Table B.3. Runaway Interview Pool
No. of
Status
Cases
46
Interviewed
12
Not interviewed – refusals
11
Not interviewed – passive refusals*
9
Not interviewed – multiple modes of contact, no response**
3
Not available for interview – incarcerated
1
Not available for interview – hospitalized
5
Not available for interview – on run
2
Not available for interview – case closed by DCFS
8
Not entered into sample frame by Chapin Hall***
3
Not approved for project by DCFS Guardian Administrator
100
Total
*Passive refusals include cases in which the youth did not show for one or more scheduled appointments and cases
in which youth did not return phone calls and/or resisted scheduling despite five or more conversations with the
interviewers and/or messages left after a conversation with the youth.
**Multiple modes of contact included mailing letters to youth/caregiver homes and caseworker offices, making
repeated phone calls on different days of the week and at different times of the day, and dropping by residences
when the first two approaches proved unsuccessful. Interviewers also called caseworkers for assistance locating
youth and caregivers for whom contact information was neither valid nor locatable through directory assistance or a
return to the DCFS database. In the event that a caseworker did not return a call after three or more messages were
left, the caseworker’s supervisor was contacted for the information.
***Cases were given to interviewers in small batches rather than all at once, so that our interviews would not simply
represent the most easily located youth. Interviewers invested their time in efforts to find and interview the more
difficult to reach youth. As a result, it was not necessary to enter the last eight cases into the sampling frame.
Foster Parent Sample
The key informant interviews with foster parents were designed to capture information about the
experiences of nonrelated caregivers who recently had youth run away from their homes. To
identify this group, we started by selecting youth who had run away from a traditional foster
home at age 12 or older between October 1, 2003, and December 31, 2003. We then identified
B-3
the foster parents of these youth, selected those that resided in Cook County, and confirmed that
none of these foster parents was a current caregiver for any of the ninty-seven individuals in the
youth sample. After these selection criteria were implemented, the sampling frame included
forty-two foster parents. We randomly selected eight of these foster parents to be contacted. Of
these eight foster parents, interviews were conducted with four.
Key Informant Sample
In addition to foster parents, we also recognized the importance of interviewing key informants
who are professionals working intensively with youth and specifically with youth who run away
from substitute care. We felt that these professionals would provide a broad and diverse
perspective beyond the particular stories we would collect from youth. These professionals were
identified using purposive sample procedures. This means that we purposely chose to target
specific informants who could provide important perspectives. A total of twelve non-foster
parent key informants were interviewed. They were law enforcement professionals who
specialize in finding and working with runaway youth, residential care providers, staff from child
welfare agencies, and DCFS staff and administrators who work with youth in substitute care.
Special attention was paid to ensuring representation from agencies in both the public and private
sectors as well as agencies of various sizes.
The following table shows the affiliation of all the key informants who participated in the
interview process:
Table B.4. Key Informant Affiliation
No. of Affiliation
Cases
4
DCFS staff
4
Private agency staff and administrators
4
Foster parents
1
University-based agency consultant
3
Law enforcement and juvenile court professionals
16
Total
B-4
Data Collection
Data Collection with Youth
Prior to entering the field, all interviewers were trained on qualitative data collection procedures
and techniques. Throughout the data collection process, all interviewers attended weekly
debriefings and ongoing training to ensure the quality and consistency of the interviews.
Interviewers used a semi-structured interview guide to collect the data (see Appendix C). All
interviews were conducted at a place and time convenient for the participant and lasted
approximately 1 hour. Youth received a $20 Walgreens gift card in exchange for participation.
In general, youth were asked to share their stories about being in substitute care. We were
interested in understanding from their perspectives why they ran, what happened while they were
“on run,” what happened when they returned to care, and what advice they would give to youth
like themselves as well as to caseworkers and youth agency staff. As part of the interview
process, all youth completed a brief “risk behavior checklist” that asked about specific behaviors
in which they may have engaged while on run (e.g., using/selling drugs, having sex in exchange
for money or a place to stay). This checklist also asked about any negative or traumatic events
the youth may have experienced while on run (e.g., rape, battery). After the interview,
interviewers completed a summary sheet and recorded key demographic and participant
background information. A final reflection page allowed interviewers to track more interpersonal
dynamics of the interview, record their impressions and thoughts about the interview process,
and select a few portions of the youth’s story to highlight.
Data Collection with Key Informants
To further understand the experiences of the youth population, additional interviews were
conducted with sixteen key informants, which included four foster parents. In general, we asked
B-5
the key informants for a variety of opinions regarding youth who run away: characteristics of
youth who run; where they run and why; greatest concerns for runaway youth; and what can be
done to prevent running away.
These interviews typically lasted 1½ hours and occurred in the offices of the professional
key informants and the homes of foster parent informants. Though the core emphasis of this
project sought out the insights of the youth and will report on these findings, key informant data
was collected to situate the youth’s individual stories into a broader context beyond the
particulars of the youths’ experiences. These multiple sources of data proved invaluable in the
analysis and interpretation of our findings.
Data Analysis
With the exception of one youth and two key informant interviewees who declined to be
recorded, all interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. The interview transcripts were then
coded in two distinct stages. First, youth transcripts were individually coded by two coders who
met weekly to discuss the development of codes, the conceptualization of the final coding
scheme, and the identification of major themes and key variables within each interview related to
the youths’ experiences. Second, key informant transcripts were also coded and major themes
were contrasted and compared with the youth interview codes. At the second stage, these codes
were then used for the analysis of themes across all youth and key informant participants to
understand the variances and similarities within our sample. As a rule, the final coding scheme
and themes were first verified as grounded in the actual interview text, and then a group
consensus was achieved between the coders and project staff. Emergent findings and the process
of analysis were determined in consultation with two external experts—one specializing in the
B-6
field of qualitative methodology and another with extensive experience in the field of youth who
run from substitute care.
B-7
APPENDIX C. Foster Youth Interview Protocol
**Be sure to set recorder to MONO and test if working properly!!
Interview ID_______________________ Date______________________Interviewer________________________
Set up to Question
I. PERSONAL/FAMILY
Before we begin, I would
like to learn a little bit
more about your story and
some things that are
important about you.
•
Question and Probes
If you wanted someone to know you what
would be the most important things
you’d want them to know?
What do you like to do in your free
time (hobbies, interests talents)
•
Tell me a bit about your family.
•
Before you were placed in foster care,
did you ever run away from home?
(Let the youth define who their family
is to them---probe to establish the
details of who they are: bio family,
foster family, etc. This may also be the
place where they talk about places that
they have lived, and people with whom
they’ve lived.)
II. EXPERIENCES
PAST
This part of the interview
is to understand your past
experiences with running
away. Later we will talk
about your most recent
experience on the run and
what happened.
FIRST TIME
Thinking back to the very
first time you ran away
from care, tell me about
that experience.
If yes, tell me about this.
If no, did you ever consider running
away?
What was going on for you during that
time?
•
•
Had you run away from foster care,
group home/s, and/or residential
treatment facilities before your last
run? (same probes)
How long had you been there before you
ran?
•
What were your plans before you left?
•
What in particular happened that
influenced your decision to run?
C-1
Comments/observations
Set up to Question
MOST RECENT TIME
Now I would like to know
about the most recent time
you left.
•
Question and Probes
Please tell me about the first place
you went and why you chose that place
to run to.
•
Tell me about all the different places
you went while you were gone.
•
How long were you planning to stay
away?
•
How long were you actually gone?
•
Tell me about your coming back to
care.
Comments/observations
Say more about this.
WHAT HAPPENED
So let’s talk about what
happened when you returned
to the foster care system.
How did you think others would react
when
they found out you ran away? Foster
parents/staff, caseworkers, teachers,
friends.
What did you think they would do? Did
you think anyone of these people
would search for you? Did they?
How did you return to care?
RUNNING TO OR FROM
Some youth tell us that
they were running away from
something when they ran
from care like problems in
their home. Others say that
they were running to
something, for example, to
be with friends or family.
Set up to Question
What happened when you came back?
•
What about you?
What was going on for you at the time
you ran away?
What were you feeling when you ran away?
•
Had you been thinking about running
away for a while before you did, or
was it a “spur-of-the-moment” thing?
Tell me about that.
Question and Probes
C-2
Comments/observations
III. YOUTH RISK
BEHAVIORS CHECKLIST
I have a list here of a
few things that happen to
some young people when they
run away. I am going to
read this list and would
like to know if any of
these things happened to
you.
[hand youth the survey and a pencil]
As I read out loud the question, please
write an “X” in the box for either no, yes,
or refuse. Remember all of your answers are
confidential.
•
•
IV. SOCIAL SUPPORTS
Now I’d like to know about
some of your relationships
with other people. Some
young people feel close to
other people, someone they
can turn to for help or
advice, while others don’t
feel close to other people.
•
Who?
Set up to Question
V. WRAP-UP
We are now close to the end
of our interview and I just
Did you:
Drink alcohol
Use drugs
Sell drugs
Do any sexual acts for money,
food, or a place to stay
Ask strangers for money
Steal or destroy someone else’s
property
Were you:
Robbed
Physically assaulted badly
enough to cause you an injury
that required medical attention
Sexually assaulted
Raped
What about you? Is there anyone in
your life you feel close to?
•
•
Question and Probes
Thinking about where you ran from and
the reasons why you left, what would
have kept you from running?
If you were going to give advice to
another young person who was thinking
C-3
Comments/observations
have a few more questions
as we wrap up. In ending I
am interested in learning
what advice and insights
you have about this
experience.
of running away from the foster care
system, what would you say?
•
If child protective services/DCFS were
to ask you what they could do to
prevent young people like yourself
from running away from the foster care
system, what would you say? Should
they (caseworkers or someone else)
search for you? How?
•
Is there anything more that you would
like to share?
•
THANK YOU!!!! (check to see if they
would agree to follow-up interview)
C-4
APPENDIX D. YOUTH EXPERIENCES
Table D.1. Qualitative Sample Individual and Placement Characteristics Reported by Youth
(N = 42)
Count
Mean Age at Interview (SD)
16 (1.5)
Median
17
Mode
16
Range
14-20
Mean Age Entered Care (SD)
Median
Mode
Range
7.5 (3.4)
8
8
0-16
Gender (%)
Male
Female
48%
52%
20
22
Race (%)
African American
Caucasian
Multiple
Latino
88%
5%
5%
2%
37
2
2
1
Type of Case Management
DCFS
POS
43%
57%
18
24
Group Affiliation
“Charter”
Non-“charter”
43%
57%
18
24
Mean Number of Placements (SD)
Median
Mode
Range
7 (9.9)
4
2
2-30
Current Placement
Group Home
29%
12
Non-Relative Home
26%
11
Kinship Care
21%
9
Residential Care
9%
4
Transitional Living
5%
2
Independent Living
5%
2
Other
5%
Note: A “Mode” is the most frequently occurring value reported by the youth. A “Median” is the value that defines
the middle of all report values, such that half of the youth reported a number greater than that value and half (50%)
of that group reported a value less than that value.
D-1
Table D.2. Runaway History Reported by Youth (N = 42)
Count
History of Running Before Substitute Care
Ran Prior to Entering Care
Ran Only After Entered Care
21%
79%
9
33
History of Running In Substitute Care
Ran more than One Time
First-Time Runner
95%
5%
40
2
Mean Number of Runs (SD)
Median
Mode
Range
Mean Number of Days Gone on a Run (SD)
Median
Mode
Range
7 (9.9)
4
2
1- 40
157 (275)
60
2
1-1460
Note: A “Mode” is the most frequently occurring value reported by the youth. A “Median” is the value that defines
the middle of all report values, such that half of the youth reported a number greater than that value and half (50%)
of that group reported a value less than that value.
D-2
Figure D.1. Distribution of Youth Respondents’ Age at Time of Interview (N = 42)
12
11
8
4
3
2
Age 14
2
Age 15
Age 16
Age 17
Age 18
Age 19
Age 20
Age at Interview
Figure D.2. Distribution of Age at Removal Reported by Youth (N = 42)
7
4
3
4
7
4
3
2
1
1
2
1
1
1
0
Infant Age 1 Age 4 Age 5 Age 6 Age 7 Age 8 Age 9 Age 10 Age 11 Age 12 Age 13 Age 14 Age 15 Age 16
(0)
Age at Removal
D-3
Figure D.3. Distribution of the Number of Placements Reported by Youth (N = 42)
9
6
6
5
4
4
2
or
e
ev
en
1
or
yS
Th
irt
y
Number of Placements
1
Tw
en
t
nt
ee
n
e
Se
ve
N
in
gh
t
Ei
Se
ve
n
Si
x
ve
Fi
Fo
ur
e
Th
re
Tw
o
1
m
2
Figure D.4. Distribution of the Number of Days on Run Reported by Youth (N = 39)
12
3
3
1
One
1
Two
Three
Four
Five
2
Six
3
3
1
Seven
Eight
Number of Runs in Care
D-4
Ten
2
1
1
2
Eleven Twenty Thirty Forty
or more or more
Figure D.5. Distribution of the Number of Days on Run Reported by Youth (N = 41)
5
5
4
3
4
3
2
2
1
2
2
2
1
1
Te
Fo n
ur
te
en
60
D
ay
s
90
D
ay
s
15
0
D
ay
s
18
0
D
ay
s
21
0
D
ay
s
24
0
D
ay
s
27
0
1
D
ye
ay
ar
s
or
m
or
e
x
Se
ve
n
Si
ve
0
Fi
Fo
ur
Tw
o
Th
re
e
ne
0
O
4
Number of Days on Run
D-5
Chapin Hall Center for Children
at the University of Chicago
1313 East 60th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637
www.chapinhall.org
phone: 773/753-5900
fax: 773/753-5940