Monday, November 16, 2009

Recession helps fuel runaway-kid problem

More children on streets say finances are factor By Janell Ross • THE TENNESSEAN • November 16, 2009 The number of young people calling the National Runaway Switchboard at least in part over financial problems at home has tripled in the past three years. In the same period, Metro police saw declining calls about runaways, but one police captain said some parents aren't reporting their runaway children. Nashville agencies that aid runaways say more are reporting financial problems as a factor in leaving home. The switchboard is a Chicago-based nonprofit agency widely respected because it gleans data from actual calls from young people who chose or were forced to run away. Its annual study suggests the recession is increasing tension in homes and driving up the number of so-called "throwaway children" — kids pushed out of their homes. The economy also makes it harder for children to survive safely and legally on the streets. Parents' job problems take toll In Nashville, agencies that work with runaways say they're finding parents' job situations exacerbating children's behavior, said Michael McSurdy, vice president of programs at the Oasis Center. When a parent loses a day job that pays the mortgage and takes a night shift that doesn't, troubled children may start missing curfew more frequently and failing in school and be asked to leave. "Younger kids, ages 13 to 17, are feeling the brunt of the economy because of the chaos that it creates in their families," McSurdy said. "In some cases … fuses get shortened, and what was tolerable last year for parent or child just is not right now." He said parents might get tougher on their children because they're losing control in other areas of their lives. In 2006, there were 2,367 children reported to Nashville police as missing or having run away. That number dropped to 1,838 last year and is trending lower this year to date. Most missing- children reports involve runaways, and most runaways return home within five working days. "There are kids out there that have left home and are living from house to house, friend to friend, and their parents don't ever report them as a runaway," said Metro Police Capt. Marlene Pardue with the Youth Services Division. "We don't ever hear from them, but an agency like Oasis might. But we do believe we've put some programs in place that are making a difference." In January 2007, officers from the Youth Services Division began contacting the families of any child returned home after having been reported missing, asking them to come in and see a counselor. The counselor connects them with social services they may need. Addressing the issues Officers visit the homes of families that don't come in, ask questions to better understand the family's issues, and suggest agencies that may be able to help. "One of the things we realized is that we had a lot of repeat offenders that were constantly running away from home, maybe 13 times in a single year," Pardue said. "So, we tried to think and look at some of the things to help that, to help these families and these kids address what's going on." The Oasis Center maintains a number of programs and services for runaway and homeless teens, including a drop-in center where 10 to 15 teens come on a typical day to connect with social services or counselors and wash their clothes. Teens contemplating running away can get some breathing room at a youth shelter that matches them with services that may help them return to and stay with their families. The agency also operates a transitional living program for young people ages 17 to 22 who have no place to live but are enrolled in an educational or vocational program. Survival is a challenge The question of how many kids leave or are pushed out of their homes each year and where they go when either happens is an important one because of what can happen once a child leaves home, said Katie Walsh, a spokeswoman with the National Runaway Switchboard. About 74 percent of callers to the hot line reported surviving with the help of family or friends. One percent said they stole, 3 percent turned to panhandling and about 2 percent worked in the sex industry. .

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