New Project Aims To Reduce Number of Teen Runaways

November 18, 2004

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A new Winston-Salem project will try to help teens who have run away from home to not run away again.

With a $612,290 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Liz Arnold, Ph.D., of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, will use an interventional model that has been used successfully on adults but never before on teens in the United States.

“We want to get them on a different path,” said Arnold, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine. “The primary aim is to prevent high risk behavior among kids who run away from home.”

A key element in the program is case management and linking teen-age runaways with existing agencies’ services in the community that may be able to help. “Many youth on the streets do not actively seek services or assistance,” she said.

The focus will be on runaways between 12 and 15 who have come to the attention of police.

“We’re hoping the project can reduce the number of chronic runaways,” said Lt. Joseph Ferrelli of the Winston-Salem Police Department’s Youth Services Unit. “Most runaways do it repeatedly, which leads to other risky behaviors.”

Instead, the program will focus on their strengths, Arnold said. “We want to look at what is positive in their lives and help them identify things they do well. Using their strengths can help them accomplish goals that they have identified.”

She hopes the teens will develop supportive relationships with their case manager. “This is an intensive one-year-long program. We’re not just interested in making changes but in maintaining those changes over time.”

The theory, Arnold said, is, “If the issues that led them to run away from home are addressed, the teens won’t run away again and will stay in school. We plan to work with them on figuring out ways that they can deal with the issues in their lives without putting themselves at risk by running away.”

Ferrelli said, “If this program can cut into the number of runaways, it can benefit the child, their family, the community and the police. Hopefully, if the model is successful, other communities can profit from it.”

Among the resources to be involved are outpatient mental health clinicians, family counselors and substance abuse counselors.

“Given the large number of youth who are reported missing each year and the numerous potential risks of being on the streets, it is important to understand what methods of intervention are effective,” Arnold said.

Ferrelli said these teens typically engage in two kinds of behavior, what police call “undisciplined behavior” – such as truancy, running away or being beyond the control of the parent – and “delinquent behavior” – such as theft of vehicles, breaking and entering, vandalism, drug use, promiscuous conduct and gang activity.


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