Most foster parents have had experience with youth who have either run away from home or have frequent unaccounted for periods in their home community. Some children in care have not had the family expectation of parental supervision. At times, youth who have difficulty adjusting to the increased accountability of treatment foster care may run from their foster home back to their community ties.
Over the years, Community Care Resources, Inc. has developed specific interventions for dealing with runaway behaviors in treatment foster care. This parental approach involves clearly outlining expectations, responding in a non-escalating way in emotional situations and following through with logical and natural consequences.
- Develop a strong relationship and open communication with your foster children. Help the youth feel accepted and listened to in your home.
- With your clinical case manager’s help, refer the youth to a therapist to address treatment issues such as depressions and substance abuse; connect the youth with services to help with school and peer issues.
- Be clear about expectations up front. When introducing a new placement to your home and rules discuss your response to unaccounted for time or running away. You may say something like,
This may be different than you are used to, but while you are here, we need to know where you are at all times. We believe that teenagers need close supervision until they have earned trust. Since you are court ordered into foster care, we will need to call the police if you are not where you are supposed to be. When the police pick you up, they will contact us and we will bring you back here. If you did make the choice to run away, you would be back on a settling-in period without community privileges to give you the opportunity to earn our trust back.
- Do not try to stop a youth from leaving your home. In the midst of a defiant episode, a child may verbally threaten to run away or grab his coat and head for the door. Calmly tell him that you hope he will not make such a poor choice. Don’t physically try to deter a youth from leaving your home.
- Remember that the ride home from the police station is probably not a teachable moment. A parent who has been awakened from a sound sleep to pick up a runaway is not the best state of mind to talk about concern for and take a defiant stance, rather than be able to listen.
Experienced foster parents choose to delay discussion of feelings and consequences until they can be calmly processed.
- Take care of health and safety concerns when a youth returns from a run. Remind your foster child of your home rules regarding being accountable for behavior. Adolescents with suspected substance use should have a urinalysis the day after a return from a run. Teens who are sexually active should have an STD screen following a run, to assure they are in good physical health.
- Expect that a period of time will be needed to repair the relationship following a run – and that your foster child may prefer to act as if everything is back to normal. Parents may need to remind the youth that their relationship is damaged and it will take time and attention to repair. Schedule time together to rebuild trust and appreciation.
Work with the child and your clinical case manager to develop a safety plan and contract for the future. The plan should include safe actions at various decision points.
A typical contract would be:
- I understand that running away puts my safety at risk and worries people who care about me. If I feel like running away I will _______(talk to foster mother, call clinical case manager, call therapist, journal, etc.)
- If I feel I must run away, I will call my foster parents and let them know I am safe.
- If I run, I understand that a runaway report will be filed and my foster parents will be contacted when I am located.
- If I run, I understand that I will have consequences including_____(loss of privileges, extentions of a 30-day settling in period, etc.)
The youth, foster parents, biological parents, county worker, and clinical case manager should sign the contract.
Credit to Alexandria vonKirschner, MSW
Community Care Resources, Inc. Newsletter XII 3, p.3