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Why They Run: $1.3 Million Grant to Help Find Answers from Youth in the Child Welfare System

Educational Achievement Level of Foster Children
  • Between approximately 170,000 to 345,000 foster children are functioning below grade level

  • More than one-third never receive a high school diploma or GED

The Florida Department of Children & Families defines the term running away as:

“A child who has left a relative placement, nonrelative placement, shelter home, foster home, residential group home, any other placement alternative, or their in-home placement without permission of the caregiver and who is determined to be missing.”

Most people will tell you the reason they run is for exercise and to stay healthy.  Ask a child in foster care why they run, and it’s a whole different conversation. Now, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), it’s a conversation that is going to be happening more often.

Assistant Professor Kimberly Crosland from the USF Department of Child & Family Studies has received a 1.3 million dollar, 3-year research grant from the USDOE’s Special Education Research Program to develop an effective intervention model focused on addressing runaway behavior in children in the child welfare system.

“Children living in foster and group homes are at great risk for school failure, due in part to a high frequency of running away,” said Dr. Crosland. “They are twice as likely to run away as those of the same age in the general population. This is a significant problem that not only affects their social, emotional and physical health, but it has a tremendous impact on academic performance as well.”

The educational achievement level of foster children is low, with studies reporting between approximately 170,000 to 345,000 foster children functioning below grade level and more than one-third never receiving a high school diploma or GED. Reasons for low educational achievement point to high levels of disrupted education and difficulties in school adjustment and performance, including runaway behavior.

According to Dr. Crosland, research activities will include the refinement of a current behavior assessment tool used to interview youth with disabilities or at-risk for disabilities (including social and emotional disorders) and evaluate the reasons they run away from their foster placements. The tool involves a pre-intervention assessment of environmental conditions that serve to maintain a specified behavior and then uses that information to devise an intervention plan tailored to meet the circumstances and needs of the individual.

Once refinements of the assessment are in place, an intervention training manual will be developed (for use by both school and child welfare personnel) to increase placement stability and improve academic outcomes for youth with disabilities in foster care.

“The goal of this project is not only to reduce the rate of running away and the resulting consequences of that behavior, but more importantly to stabilize these young people in settings that they would prefer or with arrangements that make their placements more livable and academic experiences more successful,” added Dr. Crosland.

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