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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Texas would benefit from at-risk youth programs for runaways

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Article Originally Published by Megan Hernandez on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by on North Texas Daily

Starting Right, Now is a nonprofit organization based in Florida that helps “unaccompanied youth” find stable homes and graduate from high school, according to CNN. The founder’s inspiration came from helping her son’s classmate find a home after learning that she was in danger of becoming homeless.

Through the organization, over 200 people have been helped and 97% of them have gone on to graduate high school and procure trade jobs, go to college or join the military, according to CNN. This program is important because it helps youth who have run away from their abusive or neglectful homes. Runaway children are not viable for foster care because they were not forcefully removed from their families by social services.

That’s right. If a child willingly decides to leave their abusive or neglectful home, they do not qualify for foster care, according to Youth.gov. Many children and teenagers are not willing to go through Child Protective Services or they may not even know their options.

According to a report by Chaplin Hall, one in 30 youth aged 13 to 17 experience homelessness, meaning roughly 62,351 kids in the United States alone. Where do they go? It is evident that if they cannot be placed into a foster home, they will remain homeless.

Living on the street would be dangerous for anyone but unaccompanied teens are even more at risk. About 17% of homeless Texas youth surveyed reported they had been “physically or sexually assaulted on the streets,” according to an article by Texas Tribune. With nowhere to go, the last thing these young people need is to be further traumatized.

It is unfortunate how many teens have to face these obstacles every day. Homeless youth have to make excruciating decisions like exchanging sexual favors, known as “survival sex,” for food or a place to stay. Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that runaways who identify as LGBTQ are much more likely to be forced into sex work and to experience abuse at homeless shelters.

This information has opened my eyes to the lack of care for homeless youth in our country. A shelter called “Promise House” in Dallas gives a helping hand to at-risk, unaccompanied youth. The shelter’s common practices deal with crisis intervention, transitional housing, pregnant/parenting teen services and acting as an outreach source to neglected, abused and at-risk youth.

Texas needs more of these programs. It is heartbreaking that some children are in such neglectful or abusive situations that running away is the best option. It is especially difficult if these youth don’t have any family members or an organization to help get them back on their feet.

Youth-specific shelters should be more commonplace, especially in Texas, where there are nearly 30,000 homeless children, according to Pathways Youth and Family Services. Mixing youth with adults in a homeless shelter is not ideal and raises the risk of further abuse. Implementing youth programs like these could decrease dropout rates, cases of sexual abuse and assault, teen pregnancies and STDs.

Featured Illustration: Shannon Quillman

Source: North Texas Daily

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