Stopping Runaways

Erik Laursen
Strength Based Services International
Virginia Beach, Va.

I commend Harry Wilson (of the U.S. Family and Youth Services Bureau) for his viewpoint regarding the “runaway” issue (“Runaways from Public Care Leave Agencies Lost,” May). As an association of agencies and practitioners serving troubled youth across North America, Europe and Australia, we agree wholeheartedly with Wilson’s contention that the runaway “problem” can be curtailed (or, at least, significantly reduced) by changing the therapeutic milieu.

Several of our member agencies have significantly reduced, and in some cases completely eliminated, truancies from open settings by implementing strength-based programming in lieu of beefing up security. We have encountered many agencies that have failed miserably by approaching this issue through increased security, locked environments and the pervasive (and expensive) introduction of sophisticated surveillance equipment. Each embraces the philosophy that youth truancy is a “given” in working with difficult-to-serve youth – a philosophy which we oppose.

The solution is to change the mindset of the adult caregivers, who must expect greatness from young people, not obedience. Adult/child relationships are the primary determinant of an organization’s success at developing positive environments, and those relationships must be constantly monitored to avoid abuses of power or dehumanizing practices that often drive children from their “treatment” environments. Many of our member agencies have utilized highly effective peer group programs which empower children to discuss with one another those issues that prompt youths to consider truancy a viable option.

Our charge, through our program approaches, must be to give children more reasons to remain in placement than they have to leave.


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