New research captures voices of youth who have run away from out-of-home placements

The Office of the Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman released a new report from the University of Denver’s Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab that provides an unprecedented look at the lived experiences of youth who have run away from foster care or residential treatment facilities as well as the experiences of current treatment providers.

“Not all kids run away because they’re necessarily bad kids or because they want to make bad decisions,” said one youth in the survey, “but sometimes it’s because they don’t know what to do and they’re looking for help.”

Participants included youth aged 12-17 and out-of-home service providers from northern, front range, southeast and southern Colorado. The study’s purpose was to develop an understanding of youth who run from out-of-home placements, the conditions that led to them running, provider efforts to locate those who have run and the services that are provided upon their return.

“To address youth running from out-of-home placements, we need to hear directly from those who are most impacted by the experience,” said Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman Stephanie Villafuerte. “The stories, experiences and perspectives provided by Colorado youth and treatment providers – who have been in this exact situation – offer unprecedented insights into not just why youth run but what would prevent them from running to begin with.”

Among the themes identified by researchers was that youth often feel a flight survival response at the moment of running in which they are unable to make rational decisions or understand repercussions. The report identifies what youth are running from and to and how fear of consequences can serve as a deterrent for youth. The study details existing provider protocols for locating youth when they run, youths’ experiences when they return and opportunities and barriers for prevention.

The research project was commissioned by the Office of the Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman as part of the statewide Timothy Montoya Task Force to Prevent Youth from Running from Out-of-Home Placement.

“This report provides task force members with the lived experiences of youth and providers which will ensure that any recommendations for improvement are made with their voices in the front and center,” Villafuerte said.