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Testing a model of estrangement in adolescent runaway episodes

Sanna J. Thompson, PhD, School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin, Substance Abuse Research Development Program, 1717 W. 6th St. Suite 240, Austin, TX 78703, 512-232-0604, SannaThompson@mail.utexas.edu and David E. Pollio, PhD, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, One Brookings Dr., Box 1196, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899.

Despite their growing numbers, one of the most notable gaps in research on adolescent runaways is the scant attention paid to the problem of recidivism - youth who run away, return, and run again. Studies of homeless adults have tested a model that conceptualizes homeless career length as a function of sources of estrangement: institutional disaffiliation, psychological dysfunction, and human capital. Applying these concepts to runaway/homeless youth broadens our understanding of these phenomena to include community-level influences. The present study of runaway/homeless youth using federally-funded emergency shelters nationwide (n=16,649) aims to evaluate how estrangement factors (institutional disaffiliation, psychological dysfunction and human capital) relate to multiple versus single runaway episodes.

More than half of these youth (50.3%) had multiple runaway episodes. Logistic regression analyses demonstrated that older males were significantly more likely to run away multiple times. Disaffiliation variables predicting multiple runaway episodes included: greater number of living situations, not living with parents before shelter admission, greater days on the run, poor grades, criminal behaviors, and poor family relationships. Human capital variables predicting multiple episodes included: irregular school attendance, close proximity of shelter, and limited access to drug treatment services. Psychological dysfunction variables included: greater suicidal contemplation and/or attempts and abusing substances.

Notwithstanding limitations, results indicate the importance of including these community estrangement factors in our understanding of youth runaway behaviors. To prevent further runaway episodes, services need to address issues across multiple systems of care, including family reunification, housing stability, school success, substance treatment, and prevention of criminal behavior.

Learning Objectives:

  • At the conclusion of the session, the participant (learner) in this session will be able to

    Keywords: Adolescents, Runaways

    Presenting author's disclosure statement:
    I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

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    The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA