Changing Child Welfare’s Response to Unaccompanied Minors

written by naehblog
June 22, 2012

There are so many unaccompanied runaway and homeless minors that don’t get served by runaway and homeless youth (RHY) providers that child welfare should make these minors a priority population that it serves. Nationally, RHY programs serve about 50,000 minors and older youth each year. Here at the Alliance we estimate that there are still about 400,000 minors still in need of shelter and services.

So what can child welfare do to change how it responds to unaccompanied runaway and homeless minors?

  • When State’s develop their Child and Family Service Plans they can identify unaccompanied runway and homeless minors as a sub-population they will serve. And this doesn’t necessarily mean that these minor youth have to become wards of the state and possibly placed into foster care.

And how can these minors be served?

  1.  The Promoting Safe and Stable Families program dollars can be used to provide family intervention services such as counseling, reunification services, to address the core issues that led to the minor youth exiting the home and to reunify the minor with his/her family if it is safe to do so.
  2. Through a Differential (or Alternative) Response, these minors and their families can receive services to strengthen the family and address core crises, instead of a child becoming a word of the state and a parent having an open child protective services case.

The goal is to increase resources for runaway and homeless minors to get them off of the street and to safety, which many times means back home to their families. In Alameda County (California) a demonstration project is underway that brings together child welfare, runaway and homeless youth providers, and Legal Aid services to help to identify minors who may benefit from child welfare services that are evolving and improving through California’s implementation of AB 12.  This promising approach may lead to other jurisdictions to re-think how their child welfare system responds to unaccompanied minors. Image courtesy of Dara Gocheski.