Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kids On Their Own

There was a good article published in the New York Times this week, Running in the Shadows: Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways. With stories from all over the U.S., but especially focused on a group of runaways in Oregon, the article introduces us to children who are living on the streets, in abandoned homes, libraries, or stores to avoid returning home to abuse or neglect.
We have these kids in Cincinnati too. Last year Project Connect identified 381 unaccompanied youth, or 16% of all of the children identified as experiencing homelessness during the 08-09 academic year. An unaccompanied youth is defined as children who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. Some of these children are smaller and in the care of a relative or family friend (without guardianship), but most are what we call throw-away or runaways, children who are very similar to the teens in the Times article. Project Connect works closely with several local agencies serving this population including Lighthouse Youth Services and StandUp for Kids, an all volunteer street outreach program. PC adresses the specific needs of these youth through an adolescent manager.

If you click on the article link, there is a side video, When No One's Looking, that you can view. I found it sad and inspirational at the same time. It includes the story of a family who lost their house to foreclosure, but the high school student in the family wanted to stay so that she could finish her degree. She values her education so much that she is willing to live without electricity or water.

PC Director Karen Fessler's biggest concern is that unaccompanied youth receive little support and do not qualify for many resources to help them complete their high school degrees or access higher education. Unlike children in foster care, these students do not have anyone (beyond Project Connect) to represent or help them.

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