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Runaway Youth: How Teachers Can Help


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Listen to my interview with Maureen Blaha, Executive Director of the National Runaway Safeline (transcript):

Because our mission is to serve and teach kids, any issue that impacts them has the potential to impact our work. And running away from home can impact kids in dangerous ways. We owe it to them to understand the scope of the problem, learn how to spot and respond to the warning signs of running away, and familiarize ourselves with the resources that can help. 

One of those resources is the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), a nationwide communication system to serve the needs of runaway and homeless youth. Executive Director Maureen Blaha talked with me about the runaway problem in the U.S. and how teachers can play a more active role in solving it.

How Serious is the Runaway Problem?

If you’re like me and don’t know anyone who has run away from home, you may not realize how significant the runaway problem is. According to the NRS, between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away from home each year in the U.S. Although these numbers are striking on their own, they don’t tell the whole story. The ways running away can change a child’s life are serious and sometimes frightening: Running away is correlated with significantly lower high school graduation rates, greater misuse of prescription drugs, and crime.

Maureen Blaha

“Initially they become really susceptible to being victims of crime,” Blaha explains. “They’re afraid, they’re alone, they’re on the streets. Obviously they kind of stick out like a sore thumb, and they become victims of crime.”

If the youth returns home quickly and no more episodes occur, that may be the extent of it. But if the youth stays away, crime can become a way of life. “After awhile,” Blaha continues, “in order to survive, they become perpetrators of crime: panhandling, maybe dealing drugs, oftentimes they get recruited into the human trafficking vortex.” The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that every year over 100,000 children are victims of commercial sexual exploitation–the most common kind of human trafficking in the U.S. Many of these children are runaway or homeless youth.

It goes without saying that if we can help prevent episodes of running away, we can also stave off a whole host of other serious consequences.

Warning Signs, and How to Respond

Youth who are considering running away often display a similar set of behaviors prior to taking action. If teachers can be more tuned in to these behaviors, we may be able to prevent a child from running away. Here are some signs to look out for:

If you notice these kinds of behaviors in one of your students, do not ignore them. Instead, speak with a guidance counselor, administrator, or both about what you’re noticing. If there is any suspicion of abuse going on in the home, teachers have a duty to report this.

After talking to guidance and administration, talk with the student. Describe the changes you’ve noticed, express your concern, and offer to set up an appointment with a counselor. If the student is, in fact, considering running away, provide them with information about the resources below, where trained professionals can help the student find the best resolution to their problem.

How the National Runaway Safeline Helps Runaways

The NRS offers a comprehensive set of resources to help those who have run away or who are considering it. By making this information available to students and families through the NRS’s free promotional materials, teachers will ensure that more people take advantage of these services if and when they need them.

Although the relationship between parents and their children is ultimately the main factor in the decision to run away, educators can have an influence by paying close attention to changes in student behavior and keeping the community informed about the resources that can help.

If you are thinking about running away from home or know someone who is, contact the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY.

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