There is never a good time of year for a child to run from home, but imagine in the winter, how difficult that must be for a child to figure out how to survive on the streets or where to turn to in regions that are blustery and snowing. The National Runaway Safeline (NRS), an organization that provides help and hope through hotline (1-800-RUNAWAY), online (1800RUNAWAY.org) and offline resources, issues free bus tickets home as part of the Home Free Program, and that service is used quite extensively in December and January. If you have a child, this is a service you need to know about.
Established in 1995 as a partnership between Greyhound Lines, Inc. and NRS, the Home Free program provides crisis intervention with the goal of reuniting runaway youth with their parent/legal guardian. Since the inception of the Home Free program, more than 14,000 youth have been reunited with their families.
The Home Free program aims to help youth rebuild relationships with family and friends and develop connections with positive and caring adults. In addition to working with youth and guardians to develop a plan about the child’s return home, NRS also provides resources in the youth’s community that can help with ongoing support once home. Furthermore, NRS follows up to ensure the youth has arrived home safely and provides additional resources, if necessary.
In 2011, we analyzed the call data that NRS obtained from youth looking to return home through the Home Free program and found the following trends:
• Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of youth reported family conflict as a significant issue in 2011, which was an increase of 8 percent over the previous six years.
• The average age increased from 16.5 to 17.5 years old over the previous five years.
• Most of the youth crossed state lines (88 percent in 2005 to 91 percent in 2011).
To gain a broader understanding of the impact the Home Free program has on those it serves, in 2011 we followed up with program participants and their parents, and found that their situations improved after using the Home Free service.
• Eighty-five percent of parents reported that the issues that led the youth to run away were somewhat, mostly or completely resolved within a month.
• Most parents reported that their youth used alcohol or other substances less (68 percent), engaged in physical fights less (64 percent), and broke the law less (66 percent).
• Seventy-seven percent of youth did not leave home again.
To learn more about the Home Free program, visit 1800runaway.org/youth/home_free/.