By Elizabeth Darling, Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF)
The annual November commemoration of National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM) goes back to 2002, when the White House hosted the Conference on Exploited and Runaway Children. This landmark conference brought leaders together from across the country to discuss the challenges faced by runaway and homeless youth (RHY) and the many approaches to helping these vulnerable young people. Every step of the way, this effort has been led by our essential partners at the National Runaway Safeline.
This year’s commemoration included a live Twitter chat, Wear Green Day, Light the Night candlelight vigils around the country, and nationwide community sleep-outs on November 16, dubbed A Night to End Youth Homelessness. These events raise awareness of the plight of homeless youth, but they also help build community. They bring together the people who care about these young people’s health and safety, and they highlight the extensive range of programs and people who are working together to make youth homelessness rare, brief, and temporary.
As someone who cares deeply about this issue, I appreciate National Runaway Prevention Month for its clear focus on prevention services. The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) supports the organizations and communities that work every day to put an end to youth homelessness, adolescent pregnancy, and domestic violence. Every day, over 300 FYSB funded organizations administer 619 grants to supply essential services to youth through the Basic Center, Transitional Living, Maternity Group Home, and Street Outreach programs.
If we really want to reduce and even end youth homelessness, we must do what we can to prevent it from occurring in the first place. It might be hard to quantify, but it’s a major victory whenever an at-risk young person is able to remain at home thanks to improved family relations or additional community and program support. That’s one more young person spared from the dangers and difficulties of running away, including heightened risk of trafficking and other forms of personal abuse.
National Runaway Prevention Month is an annual chance to raise awareness about youth homelessness and the approaches — including runaway prevention approaches — that work to improve young lives. It’s also an opportunity to correct the myths around youth homelessness, such as the widespread belief that most young people choose to run away. In many instances, young people are asked to leave home or leave home because they can’t see any other way of improving their lives. If we can help them address their underlying concerns, perhaps we can keep them from couch-surfing or risking their safety on the streets.
So how do we do this? As always, collaboration is critical. We know, for example, that roughly 12% of referrals to Basic Center and Transitional Living Programs come from schools. Programs can help prevent youth homelessness by strengthening their relationships with local schools and making sure that providers and young people are aware of the help available to them thanks to the McKinney-Vento Act.
We can also “shine a light,” as the NRPM rallying cry goes, on the work being done across every state, with Tribes and in U.S. territories by FYSB grantees and their partners. These programs do essential work that too often goes unrecognized within their communities. In FY2017, across all Transitional Living programs, 90% of youth made “safe and appropriate exits” to independent or family housing, and 38% went on to graduate high school or obtain their GED.
National Runaway Prevention Month is our annual campaign to showcase these successes and the organizations that make them possible. And it’s our chance to highlight the work yet to be done, including the hard work of supporting families and youth in crisis on their journey to achieve self-sufficiency and a brighter future.