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Statement on the Reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act by Patricia Montoya
Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Before the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families
U.S. House of Representatives
March 25, 1999

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee,

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee to discuss the importance of programs serving youth and to express the Administration's strong support for reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. I would particularly like to thank Chairman Castle, Mr. Greenwood and other members of the Subcommittee for the leadership you have demonstrated by introducing H.R. 1150, the Juvenile Crime Control and Delinquency Prevention Act, which includes provisions to strengthen and reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. It is my understanding that H.R. 1150 is identical to H.R. 1818, which passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in the last Congress. As you know, Secretary Shalala wrote to the Subcommittee in June 1997, expressing the Department's support for the enactment of the title of the H.R. 1818 addressing the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.

Unfortunately, although both the House and the Senate passed bills to reauthorize the Act during the last Congress, time ran out before a final bill could be enacted. Therefore, we hope that this year, marking the 25th anniversary of the Runaway and Homeless Youth program, we will be able to continue a tradition of bipartisan support and enact final reauthorizing legislation.

It is estimated that between 500,000 and 1.5 million children and youth run away from home each year. A 1988 study estimated that over 127,000 children were "thrownaways" ­ children who had been told to leave the house, abandoned, or prevented from returning home. Many youth are leaving homes affected by abuse, neglect, substance abuse, mental illness, or other family problems.

To help meet the needs of these very vulnerable youth, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act authorizes three grant programs: the Basic Center Program, which provides temporary emergency shelter to runaway youth, while working to reunite them with their families when possible; the Transitional Living Program, which provides longer-term residential, educational and vocational services to homeless youth to enable them to develop the skills they need to become self-sufficient young adults; and the Street Outreach Program, which reaches out to young people on the streets to protect them from sexual abuse or exploitation and to help connect them to needed services and community supports. In fiscal year 1998, these three programs together served about 75,000 youth. Over 20,000 of these youth reported that they had experienced physical abuse with their households. About 9,000 reported sexual abuse while at home and 14,000 reported being neglected. Forty-seven percent of the youth reported that a household member was abusing alcohol or drugs. Thirteen percent of the youth reported that they had attempted suicide.

The programs and support systems authorized by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act serve as a critical lifeline to youth and their families. They provide a safe place to turn in times of crisis and they offer the services, training, skills and, most importantly, the positive support youth need to help them make the transition to healthy, productive lives as adults.

I would like to share a couple of stories that illustrate the importance of youth programs.

  • In Los Angeles, I visited the Los Angeles Youth Network, which operates a shelter program, a drop-in center and an aftercare program for youth transitioning out of their other programs. At the drop-in center, I met Shandra, a very mature 15 year old. Shandra had been a very good student and was involved with student government and other school activities. But she told me that "my mom and I just were not getting along, so I ran away." She came to the Los Angeles Youth Network, where they worked with her and her mother, allowing her to return home. Shandra said they helped her focus, provided support, helped her to gain a sense of personal responsibility for her life and helped her and her mom to get along better.
  • In Texas, I met the Director of the Central Texas Youth Service Bureau who told me about another young woman. She had run away from home at the age of 14 due to physical and sexual abuse and had found her way to their shelter for runaway youth. The shelter provided her with needed services, but then lost contact after she left their facility. Six years later, this young woman appeared at the shelter Director's office and introduced herself. She reported that she had just graduated from nursing school and was getting married. She said she owed her life to the agency; if it had not been for their shelter and the caring staff, she probably would be dead.

We know that runaway and homeless youth programs make a real difference in the lives of young people. Recognizing the importance of these programs, the President's budget for fiscal year 2000 proposes to increase funding for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act's Transitional Living Program by 33 percent. This proposal, along with several initiatives to expand supports to youth aging out of the foster care system, is part of our overall effort to assist vulnerable youth in making a successful passage to adulthood. Assuring swift reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act is another key step in fulfilling our commitment to youth.

I would now like to take a few moments to provide more information on the programs and services authorized by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and administered by the Family and Youth Services Bureau, within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

The Basic Center Program: The Basic Center Program funds youth shelters that provide emergency shelter for up to 15 days, as well as food, clothing, outreach services, and crisis intervention for runaway and homeless youth. The shelters offer services to help reunite youth with their families, whenever possible. Our most recent data show that approximately 60 percent of youth served by these programs are able to be reunited with their families or guardians. When this cannot be safely accomplished, shelters help youth to locate alternative secure living arrangements with relatives, friends or in foster homes.

The FY 1998 appropriation of $43.6 million supported more than 370 basic center projects across the country. Grantees, most of which are community-based organizations, receive an average grant of approximately $104,000 per year for a three-year period. Each federal dollar leverages, on average, more than two dollars for services to this population.

The Transitional Living Program: The Transitional Living Program (TLP) addresses the longer-term needs of homeless older youth. The program makes grants to community-based organizations to help homeless youth ages 16 - 21 to make a successful transition to self-sufficient adulthood by giving them the tools they need to live independently. The programs provide youth with a supervised place to live for up to 18 months, life skills training (such as how to budget, balance a checkbook, find an apartment or apply for a job), vocational training, and other support services. The TLP allows youth to complete their education, learn practical skills, and develop positive relationships with mentors and peers, while living in a safe and supported environment. In this way, the program helps young people to become healthy, productive, self-sufficient adults, avoiding the risks of continued homelessness, long-term dependency on government aid or social services, or involvement with the criminal justice system.

A recent survey of transitional living programs found that 78 percent of young people participating in TLP programs were employed either part- or full-time, 74 percent of youth were discharged to stable housing at the completion of the program, and, six months after completing participation in the program, 78 percent remained free of all direct government aid.

In FY 1998, an appropriation of $14.9 million enabled the Department to support over 75 TLP projects at an average of $181,000 per year for a three-year period. As I noted earlier, the President has proposed a 33 percent increase for this critically important and successful program, which would bring the appropriation in FY 2000 up to approximately $20 million.

Street Outreach Program: The Street Outreach Program (or more formally the Education and Prevention Grant to Reduce Sexual Abuse of Runaway, Homeless, and Street Youth) was enacted as part of the Violence Against Women Act of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The purpose of this program is to provide street-based outreach and education, including treatment, counseling, and provision of information and referral for services to runaway, homeless and street youth who have been subjected to sexual abuse or are at risk of such abuse.

Today, the dangers facing youth on the street are greater than ever -- violence, drug abuse, sexual exploitation, as well as health risks unheard of 25 years ago, like AIDS and new antibiotic-resistant strains of tuberculosis. Service providers I have met have all emphasized the importance of reaching kids on the street as quickly as possible, before they have spent more than 2 months on the streets. After this point, there is a greater risk of losing them permanently to the dangers of the street.

Street outreach grantees offer services on the street during the hours young people tend to be out, including late afternoons, evenings, nights, and weekends. The programs use staff whose genders, ethnicities, and life experiences are similar to those of the young people to be served. street outreach grantees provide services from a youth development perspective and they involve youth in the design, operation and evaluation of the program. These grantees are also required to coordinate with state or local sexual assault coalitions or other agencies providing services to youth who have been or are at risk of being sexually assaulted or exploited.

The FY 1998 funding of $15 million for the street outreach program funded 138 grantees with experience in providing services to runaway, homeless, and street youth.

National Support Systems for Youth: In addition to the three grant programs, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act authorizes funds for a number of support activities.

  • The National Runaway Switchboard is a national communications system designed to assist runaway youth and their families by linking them to crisis counseling, programs and resources, and each other, as appropriate. The goal for the system is to ensure that young people in crisis have one central place to turn to for information on the help available to them. The switchboard typically responds to more than 12,500 calls a month. To ensure access to all youth in need, the Switchboard has operators who are bilingual in Spanish and English. The switchboard also has access to AT&T's language line translation services, which can provide translation services for many languages that may not be spoken by switchboard operators. In addition, there is a special line for helping hearing-impaired youth to access the switchboard's services. The switchboard handles a wide range of calls, from counseling youth who are thinking of running away, to assisting youth who have run away from home find a safe place to go to get off the streets. The switchboard also assists parents who are worried about their teenage children's behavior. Switchboard operators can help a parent to figure out how to talk to their children and where to get more help in resolving family issues.
  • The National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth serves as a central information source on youth and family policy and practice. The clearinghouse disseminates information to grantees and the public, helps the Family and Youth Services Bureau to organize critical-issue forums that bring together grantees and other experts on issues affecting youth, and assists in outreach and networking to other agencies and organizations working with youth.
  • The Regional Training and Technical Assistance Network is a coordinated group of organizations, one in each of the 10 federal regions, that provides training and technical assistance to local grantees. The training and technical assistance providers organize regional and state-level conferences and workshops for grantees, provide on-site consultation and offer telephone consultation in order to assist grantees to provide well-managed, effective services for runaway, homeless and street youth.

Finally, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act provides support for much-needed data collection, evaluation, research and demonstration activities. These activities improve our understanding of the needs and characteristics of runaway and homeless youth and help us to develop effective interventions for assuring positive outcomes for these youth.

And, as we all recognize, assuring positive outcomes for our youth today is by no means easy. The Carnegie Report on Adolescent Development stressed that there has been an erosion of traditional support systems and neighborhood networks. It concluded, "Young adults from all economic strata [now] find themselves alone in communities where there are few adults to turn to, and no safe places to go." The programs authorized by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act assure that for some of the youth most at risk, those who have runaway or been pushed out of their homes, youth who are now sleeping in doorways or under bridges or hanging out in bus stations waiting to get thrown out, there will be a safe place to go with a caring adult.

In closing, I would like to emphasize how important I think it is that you are focusing on supporting youth. As commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, I have responsibility for overseeing a range of programs, including Head Start, child care and child welfare. I feel very strongly that we must provide a continuum of services to ensure that we are supporting our children every step of the way. The early years are critical ­ we know that and must continue to invest in early childhood ­ but we must also stick with kids as they grow older. Children are like gardens: it is critical that we prepare the soil and plant the seeds. But if that is all we do, we should not be surprised if they do not flourish. We have to pay attention to them on an ongoing basis. Just as one would fertilize a garden, we must stimulate growth in young people. Just as one would weed a garden, we must root out the negative influences, peer pressure and self-doubt that threaten to stunt the positive development of our children. Especially during pre-adolescence and adolescence, we must have continued youth development activities to provide something to which young people can say "yes" instead of just asking them to say "no"to risky behaviors.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act supports organizations across the country which help youth to do just that. On behalf of the Administration, I thank you for holding today's hearing. We look forward to working with you to enact bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, so that we may ensure that these programs continue to meet the needs of youth across the country. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

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