November is National Runaway Prevention Month, which aims to raise awareness in our local communities about runaway and homeless youth and seek solutions to prevent this growing issue. For years, three local agencies including Family Connection, Children’s Aid Society, and JCCEO have specialized in serving these young people and have worked collectively, along with other partner agencies throughout AL, to meet the needs of youth that run away from their homes and often become homeless.
Youth run away for a variety of reasons. They either run towards a person or situation that draws them, or run away from a person or situation that seems hopeless. Rarely do we see youth in our programs that have run away or become homeless as a result of thrill-seeking. Running away is most often a means of escape, which can lead to a multitude of other unwanted and unanticipated challenges that vulnerable young people are not prepared to face.
Once a young person leaves home, they have few legal means by which they can earn enough money to meet basic needs, due to their age. Many find that exchanging sex for food, clothing, and shelter is their only chance of survival. Many drop out of school. Living without supervision, nurturance, and support, these youth are at the highest risk of being exploited by adults and in turn, victimizing others. We now know that these youth are prime human trafficking victims. Aside from victimization, these young people face school-failure, long-term homelessness, delinquent activities, drug dependency, pregnancy, and sometimes death.
Please join us in our efforts to prevent youth from seeking risky solutions to their feelings of hopelessness. Through our professional experience and through years of research, we know that youth who feel connected in school, to their families, to their friends, to communities of faith, and to other healthy adult role models are less likely to solve their problems by running away. Each of us has a vital role to play in the lives of young people we come into contact with on a regular basis. The value of appropriate adult care and connection cannot be underestimated.
Gayle Watts, LCSW
CAS Executive Director