Family Functioning and Predictors of Runaway Behavior Among At-Risk Youth

Published in: Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on October 12, 2016

by Stephanie Brooks Holliday, Maria Orlando Edelen, Joan S. Tucker

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Adolescent runaway behavior is associated with a host of negative outcomes in young adulthood. Therefore, it is important to understand the factors that predict running away in youth. Longitudinal data from 111 at-risk families were used to identify proximal predictors of runaway behavior over a 12-week period. On average, youth were 14.96 years old, and 45 % were female. Ten percent of youth ran away during the 12-week follow-up period. In bivariate analyses, running away was predicted by poorer youth- and parent-rated family functioning, past runaway behavior, and other problem behaviors (e.g., substance use, delinquency), but not poorer perceived academic functioning. Results of a hierarchical logistic regression revealed a relationship between youth-rated family functioning and runaway behavior. However, this effect became non-significant after accounting for past runaway behavior and other problem behaviors, both of which remained significant predictors in the multivariable model. These findings suggest that youth who run away may be engaged in a more pervasive pattern of problematic behavior, and that screening and prevention programs need to address the cycle of adolescent defiant behavior associated with running away. Recommendations for clinical practice with this at-risk population are discussed.

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