March 17, 2005 - A report that examines the numbers, characteristics,
risk factors and experiences of youth who run away from substitute care
in Illinois will be used to sharpen the focus on existing programs to
help runaways and develop new approaches to improve services for a smaller,
older and more diverse population of children in state care.
"Youth Who Run Away from Substitute Care," was prepared at the
request of the Department of Children of Family Services (DCFS) by the
Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. It is the
first in-depth quantitative and qualitative analysis of youth who run
away from out-of-home care.
panel gathered today at the Gleacher Center to react to the report and
discuss ways to improve outcomes for runaways. Moderated by Robin Robinson
of WFLD-TV FOX 32 News, panelists included:
Courtney, Director of Chapin Hall Center for Children
Chicago Police Youth Commander
Harris, Cook County Public Guardian
Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Division of the Juvenile Justice and
Child Protection Department
Turner, 20, mother of children ages 3 and 1-month and participant
in Pathways Pregnant and Parenting program
Velasquez, Executive Director of Youth Outreach Services, Inc.
Bryan Samuels said the report will guide the development of new approaches
designed specifically for runaway youth and is part of an ongoing effort
to improve the quality of care the department delivers to the lowest number
of children in 17 years. DCFS is responsible for more than 18,000 children
today, a steep reduction from the 51,000 children in state care as recently
as 1997 and the smallest population since 1988.
changes may have reduced the total number of children, but that doesn't
mean our job is easier. If anything, our challenge is more difficult as
we adapt the agency's practices to respond to and anticipate the needs
of specific segments of children, such as youth who run away from the
care we provide," said Director Samuels.
began a long-term process to adapt our policies and practices because
we recognized the DCFS population is smaller, older, more diverse than
ever, stays in the system longer and presents more complex demands that
require us to do a better job," he said. The report analyzed existing
data and included findings from interviews with 42 youth who ran away,
as well as foster parents and child welfare professionals. It does not
include policy improvement recommendations..
asked Chapin Hall not to make recommendations about what DCFS should or
should not do about runaways because we want to talk honestly and openly
with the child welfare community about how to use the report and where
we go from here to determine what we should do," said Director Samuels.
goal is to have an effective response concerning kids who run away. As
part of an overall effort to serve kids better, we're more interested
in reducing their time on the run and the possibility that they will run
again than simply decreasing the number of kids who run," he said.
he pointed out the number of missing youth in DCFS care dropped 18 percent
in the last year, to 266 in March, 2005 from 324 in March, 2004.
use several key findings from the report to guide next steps:
- The likelihood
of runaway is increasing, a trend "due almost entirely to an increase
in subsequent runs rather than first runs," according to the report.
is a correlation between youth in multiple foster care placements and
runaways. According to the report, a youth in a second placement is
80 percent more likely to run for the first time than a youth in a first
placement. Further, a youth with five placements is two-and-a-half times
more likely to run as a child in first placement.
females are more likely to run away than other youth demographic.
who have run away once are more likely to run away again.
with substance abuse problems and mental health diagnoses are at heightened
risk of running away.
type is a major factor in the likelihood of runaway, with youth in foster
home care less likely to run away than those in residential care, and
those living in the home of a relative even less likely to run.
launched several initiatives in the past year under the umbrella of a
"Lifetime Approach" to alter and strengthen the direction of
child welfare in Illinois:
unit: DCFS established a Child Location and Support Unit for Missing Children
in November, 2003 and developed a computer tracking system unique to Illinois.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), in partnership
with DCFS, also provided specialized training focused on documenting and
locating missing wards. As a result over the last two years, the number
of youth on run has substantially been reduced and the length of time
on run has also significantly decreased.
Law enforcement liaison: Roberta M. Bartik was recently appointed to this
newly created position at DCFS that helps the Department with issues involving
police investigations related to runaways.
Intensive Stabilization: Targeted strategies to stabilize older youth
that have a pattern of multiple placements and run behavior.
Older Adolescent Foster Homes: Recruitment of new foster parents for older
youth during their transition to independence.
Residential Performance Unit: Tracking youth during stays in residential
facilities to ensure progress and timely discharge to community-based
Integrated Assessment: Conducting comprehensive clinical analysis of each
child when they enter care and developing a service plan based on the
Enhanced Services for Shelter Care Clients: Maintaining a child's school
of origin when that child's placement is disputed and the child is placed
in shelter care in Chicago. Transportation services are central to this
effort through a joint effort with Chicago Public Schools.
use the report to identify who runs away from out-of-home care, trends
in running away over time, what happens to youth when they run away and
specific areas where interventions may be targeted, such as: the role
of caseworkers, importance of connections to others, ties to family, need
for normalcy, mental health and substance abuse disorders, interventions
immediately after a first run, and the relationship of race and gender
to running away.
also identified three common themes behind the reasons youth run away:
staying connected with biological family; reaching out to caseworkers,
caregivers and other professionals in an effort to recreate family; and
youths' struggle for autonomy and drive for normalcy.
is not a 'one-size-fits-all' problem," said Malia Arnett, CEO of
ChildLink, a Chicago-based organization that serves approximately 200
youth ranging in age from birth to 21 years old.
report helps alter common assumptions about the runaway population. As
this report illustrates, most youth who run away are more dangerous to
themselves than others."
director of Chapin Hall and co-principal investigator for the study, said
the report will help DCFS and the child welfare community to strengthen
existing programs and develop new approaches for the runaway population
findings demonstrate the need to create opportunities for foster youth
to engage in constructive ways with their peers, connect with caring adults,
and for child welfare authorities to treat any run as a serious cause
for concern," said Courtney.
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services