Identifying Adolescent Runaways: The Predictive Utility of the Personality Inventory for Children

Article excerpt

Nationally, estimates indicated that the number of adolescents who ran away from home each year ranged from 1 million (Walker, 1975) to 2 million (Freudenberger & Torkelson, 1984) with predictions as high as 4 million (National Network of Runaway and Youth Services (NNRYS), 1985). The NNRYS (1991) had recently reported that the current mean estimate of runaways per year was 2 million. Pragmatically, 3% of American families have an adolescent run away from home each year (Garbarino, Schellenback, & Sebes, 1986) or approximately 1 out of 9 secondary school students may have a runaway history (Rohr & James, 1994). Prior reviews of the literature on runaway behavior have focused on the relationship between runaways and their family. A current review indicated that there were additional problematic areas and behaviors - parental problems, delinquent behavior, academic problems, peer relationship difficulties, and problems symptomatic of psychopathology (Rohr, 1991).

Problematic Areas

The problematic area of Family Relationships consisted of behaviors such as parental rejection (Adler, 1980), constant downgrading of the child (Spillane-Greico, 1984), separation and divorce (Ackerman, 1980), intolerable and conflictual home conditions (Blood & D'Angelo, 1974), sibling rivalry problems (Johnson & Peck, 1978), problems in communicating with members of the family (Gullata, 1979), family members not expressing love for each other (Blood & D'Angelo, 1974), and mutual lack of care and love for each other (Spillane-Greico, 1984). The Parental Problem area included behaviors such as parents using excessive punishment (Brandon, 1975), parents with a history of drug use (Steinbock, 1977), and inadequacy in managing children's behavior (Wodarski & Ammons, 1981; Bell, 1984). Behaviors such as stealing (Edelbrock, 1980), disobedience (Blood & D'Angelo, 1974), legal difficulties (Schmidt, 1975), truancy (Nye, 1980), and being adjudicated as a delinquent (Linden, 1979) comprised the Delinquent Behavior area. The School Problem area included behaviors such as having a negative attitude toward school (Nye, 1980), poor problem-solving skills (Roberts, 1982a), and school behavior problems (Gutierres & Reich, 1981). Poor social relationships (Gilchrist, 1984) comprised the Peer Relationships area. Finally, Symptoms of Psychopathology included problems such as anxiety (Williams, 1977), suicidal tendencies (Norey & Donohue, 1985), having been physically abused (Harris, 1980), sexually abused (Hughes, 1981), and having used alcohol and drugs (Maar, 1984).

These earlier findings have been supported by more recent research. The NNRYS (1985) in a survey of approximately 51,000 youths in 210 runaway facilities found that some of the main presenting problems were depression, suicidal tendencies, alcohol and drug use, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and the generic category - severe psychological problems. The most recent survey by the NNRYS (1991) essentially replicated some of their 1985 findings; 50,000 youths in 146 runaway facilities were surveyed. Results indicated that 46% of the youths had a substance abuse problem, with 14% being addicted; 31% reported suffering physical abuse, and 21% reported having been sexually abused; 61% reported being depressed, with 21% having had suicidal ideations.

Some authors have rejected the notion that adolescent runaways were problematic and psychopathological. Chapman (1975) suggested that runaway behavior was related neither to delinquency nor emotional disturbance. Ambrosino (1971) reported that running away was a function of normal adolescent development toward independence and autonomy; it could be viewed as a positive psychological sign. Homer (1973) concluded that running away generally was not a cry for help but a search for adventure. She viewed the notion that runaways were sociopathic or psychopathological as a myth. A recent review by Burke and Burkhead (1989) concluded that none of the above authors provided empirical data to support their conclusions, and no recent research supports this perspective of adolescent runaways as being normal and healthy. …