Forum looks at local runawaysPublished 10:49pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011
More than 1.6 million children run away from home each year in the United States on average.
And Berrien County is not immune to the runaway and homeless youth crisis. In fact, it was the subject of a sparsely-attended community forum sponsored by the Link Crisis Intervention Center at the Ferry Street Resource Center Wednesday.
The forum was one of several held in the area this week to recognize National Runaway Prevention Month.
The Link Crisis Intervention Center, a Benton Harbor-based program of the Child and Family Services of Southwestern Michigan, offers resources to runaway children and their families throughout Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.
Shelton Parker, the Safe Place coordinator for the center, said it’s an issue that affects children everywhere.
The National Runaway Switchboard reports that between 1.6 million and 2.8 million children run away from home annually. One out of five kids will leave home before age 18.
Even though the agency is based in Benton Harbor, Parker said it provides services for kids throughout the tri-county area.
Kelly Nightingale, director of youth and family services for Child and Family Services of Southwestern Michigan, said she was surprised to see recent homeless statistics.
This year’s Homeless Resource Network study found Buchanan Community Schools leading the way in the county in number of students living in unsafe or temporary housing with 60. Brandywine had 35 and Niles 23.
“It’s surprising to people, I think,” Nightingale said. “You don’t expect it to be that high in that area.”
It’s a reason why the Link Crisis Center has added three “Safe Place” locations to south county. There are 19 Safe Place locations total in Berrien County, where kids in crisis can go for help. The buildings have bright yellow signs that indicate it’s a place where children can go to talk to adult volunteers and get guidance.
The reasons for children coming to a Safe Place location vary, Parker said. Some have been physically threatened, while others are facing abusive situations at home or are dealing with suicidal thoughts.
“We help them create an action plan,” Parker said. “We focus not on what they don’t do well but on what they already do well and build on that. It’s really effective with many of the kids.”
When Safe Place locations aren’t open, youth in crisis can call or text a 24/7 phone number (269-358-5465) listed on the building’s sign. The three Safe Places in south county are Buchanan Library, the Niles-Buchanan YMCA and the Ferry Street Resource Center.
The Link Crisis Intervention Center also partners with the Ark Program in Kalamazoo to provide safe shelter, counseling and aftercare services for homeless youth or those at risk.
Parker said the center has helped more than 50 children get shelter this year, while providing other services for dozens more.
More information about National Runaway Prevention Month can be found at www.1800runaway.org. To find out more about the Link Crisis Intervention Center, visit www.sfsswmi.org.
National Runaway Statistics from National Runaway Switchboard
— Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away each year
— Youth between 12 and 17 are at a higher risk for homelessness than adults
— More than 50 percent of youth in shelters or on the streets reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they left and didn’t care
— 80 percent of runaway and homeless girls reported having been sexually or physically abused.
— 32 percent of runaway and homeless youth have attempted suicide at some point
— 50 percent of homeless youth age 16 or older reported dropping out of school or being expelled or suspended
— Runaway youths are 50 percent male and 50 percent female