An Indiana youth association is working to assist runaway youths and educate local communities about such cases.
The Indiana Youth Services Association supports 30 Youth Service Bureaus and 17 Safe Places statewide. The Youth Service Bureaus facilitate different nonprofit programs centered around runaway prevention and advocacy and work to educate local communities about catalysts and risk factors related to runaways. The Safe Places are a group of local businesses and public facilities dedicated to keeping youths safe in crisis situations.
The association identifies runaway youths as minors who leave their homes and lifestyle for a long period without parental or a guardian’s permission. These children often become homeless without a source of income and don’t have access to safety or educational resources.
Robin Donaldson, chief operating officer of the IYSA, said the organization uses state funds to promote the National Runaway Prevention Month through social media campaigns and different community projects.
There are Safe Places in Monroe, Green and Owen Counties, which are locations for runaways or at-risk adolescents seeking help in crisis situations. A map of these Safe Place locations is available online.
“As adults, I think it is our ethical and moral responsibility to make sure that they have those resources and support they need,” Donaldson said. “We have to recognize that there are kids who come from very challenging situations with lots of barriers that aren’t their fault.”
She said it is important to recognize the children and teens aren’t being rebellious or trying to make poor decisions.
“Kids are always running away from something — abuse, neglect, etc.,” Donaldson said. “It’s a symptom of something else that’s going within that young person’s life.”
Youths in crisis situations can call the 1-800-RUNAWAY hotline or text the word “SAFE” and their location to 44357 for immediate assistance.
“We need to make sure that they have all the resources that they need to be successful,” Donaldson said. “Every kid is important, and every kid deserves a chance to succeed. That is why I do the work that I do.”
Brigitt Nasby, Shelter Outreach and Safe Place coordinator for the Monroe County Youth Service Bureau, said the bureau offers temporary residential assistance and crisis intervention for runways, homeless children and abused youths at its Binkley Shelter located at 615 S. Adams St.
Nasby said data the bureau collected shows, in a class of 30 people, one person may experience some degree of homelessness every year.
“If you think about the number of students taking classes at IU, that’s a lot of people that may have lived or are living that experience,” Nasby said.
Nasby said it is essential the bureau raises awareness and empathy for the runaways within the community because being homeless affects a youth’s chance for success and mental well-being. She said that they’re more at risk to be victims of trafficking and other crimes.
“If we help one kid, then it’s worth it,” Nasby said. “When we create safety nets and build empathy in our communities, everyone benefits.”
In Indiana, she said most runways end up couch surfing, but sleeping on the streets and staying in shelters is not unheard of. Most cases involve youths being exposed to familial stress, unstable housing situations or familial poverty and substance abuse.
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No matter the catalyst, Nasby said it results in youths losing basic needs and getting into dangerous situations.
“We want to try to get to them before they run away so they’re not encountering things that they become vulnerable to,” Nasby said.
With more engagement and awareness, Nasby said more runway cases can be identified, and the community can get more involved and appropriately respond to the situation.
“You don’t have to solve the problem,” Nasby said. “You just have to make the right call and connect to the right person.”