Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Teen Runaways: Which Ones Do We Need to Worry About?

From JoinTogether Online:

Most runaway teens return home on their own shortly after leaving, and few fit the stereotype of deeply troubled youth, according to researchers at UCLA.

Science Daily reported Dec. 5 that researcher Norweeta G. Milburn of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA said that stereotypes of runaways have been formed because most studies have focused on teens who repeatedly run away.

"Our finding goes against the grain of what most people envision a homeless teenager's life to be -- a life filled with maltreatment, substance abuse, disorganization, conflict and violence," said Milburn. "While that is certainly true of chronic runaways, in fact, more than two-thirds of newly homeless youth leave the streets, resolve their family differences and go home.

"Further, the key appears to be that a family intervention, no matter how brief, can improve the chances that new runaways will go home and stay home," Milburn said.
Teens who maintain relationships with non-runaway friends, have stayed in school and sense the support of their parents -- especially mothers -- are more likely to return home, the research found.

The study, which tracked 183 newly homeless adolescents in Los Angeles, appears in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

Not surprisingly, we had a bit of a reaction to this piece.

I checked with Doug Tanner, our resident homeless youth specialist. He said:

Not new information – but potentially dangerous if improperly interpreted.

This is similar to statistics documenting that 75% of homeless people are homeless for less than 90 days and only 25% are chronically homeless. However, at any given time the majority of those that are homeless are chronically homeless. This is because the 75% who are not chronically homeless cycle through while the chronic population remains homeless. This is a well documented and often misrepresented fact.

So, this is not new news. It is just another statistical spin.

The percentage of runaways who do not return home, have no functional home to return to, and experience trauma and other bad stuff as a result of neglect and homelessness are very likely a small percentage of homeless youth, but at any given moment in time are likely to make up a large percentage - possibly even a majority of RHY youth.

The key word in this summary below is “two-thirds of newly homeless” etc. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if 80% of newly homeless youth returned home within 30 days. There are more fresh “newly homeless” kids every day – thousands and thousands. They aren’t the ones we need to be the most concerned about – AND NEITHER SHOULD THIS RESEARCHER WHO THINKS HE’S ON TO SOMETHING NEW.

Another example of sorts: in World War II, only about 20% of American soldiers saw combat. But because the powers that be discovered that experienced soldiers were more effective than replacements, the chances were very high that anyone who did see combat was stuck there for the entire war unless they were badly wounded, captured or killed. Meanwhile, everyone else (the other 80%) cycled in and out of assignments. The chronically homeless, young and old, are like combat soldiers in WWII – everyone else gets relieved, but they’re stuck.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The New Science on 'Orchid Children': Considering the Implications

From the December issue of the Atlantic Monthly comes an important article that reconsiders the potential of "vulnerable" children to contribute to society. "Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere," the intro reads. "A few of us however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and anti-social, also underlie humankind's phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail. But with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society's most creative, successful, and happy people." It's the ultimate "strengths-based" approach. The good news: there's a new body of science to back it up.