Led by Dr. Gary Harper, professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan, a team of researchers and staff from the National Runaway Safeline has published an evaluation of Home Free, a program that helps runaway and homeless youth reunite with their families. The evaluation is based on data collected from parents and caregivers whose children used the program in 2011.
The research team conducted telephone interviews with 107 parents and guardians whose children (ages 14–20) had run away from home and used the program’s services in 2011. Participants answered both survey and open-ended questions about their relationship with their children before and after they ran away, as well as family members’ ongoing experiences with conflict and their comfort levels expressing themselves.
Since 1995, the Home Free Program has provided trauma-sensitive crisis intervention and a free bus ticket to help young people reconnect with their families. Further evaluation is needed, however, to measure the program’s effects once a young person comes home. Better understanding parents’ response to the Home Free Program and their perceptions of its continued impact can inform family and youth workers who connect young people to the service. It can also inspire other agencies to adopt a similar approach.
The combined findings, the authors write, build on previous research pointing to positive results for programs that actively involve parents and family members in supporting youth after bouts of homelessness.
“The primary purpose for conducting the evaluation was to better inform the program and to better address the needs of families,” says Dr. Harper. “[Additionally], we wanted to share what we are doing with other people in hopes that others could do similar types of interventions.”
Dr. Harper is a long-time volunteer with National Runaway Safeline and is currently on the board of directors. To read the interview with Dr. Harper, click here.