The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act

If passed, S.262 and H.R. 1779 will reauthorize and strengthen the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) and will continue to provide vital services for homeless youth. The bill was initially introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) at the beginning of the year. If Congress passes it, the millions of homeless children will have access to a safer and brighter future.

What are some of the Vital Things it will Do?

  • Reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act through the fiscal year of 2020 and would require local centers to provide safe shelter and services for runaway and homeless youth and for their families or people they identify as family. 

  • Modifies the Basic Center Grant (CG) to extend the length of stay at these shelters from 21 days to 30 days, 

  • Requires shelters to provide suicide prevention services, trauma-informed and gender-responsive services , including victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation, and include an assessment of family engagement in support and possibility of reunification if appropriate, along with interventions, and services for parents or legal guardians of the youth.

  • The revised act will require assistance for the runaway and homeless youth to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, 

  • Requires information and counseling services in basic life skills that are age, gender, and linguistically appropriate, and would give them appropriate referrals to mental health services and comprehensive services to victims of trafficking. 

  • Under this revised act, the Transitional Living Program (TLP) would provide job training, mental and physical health care, suicide prevention and counseling.

  • Requires better record keeping.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) can give grants to public agencies to provide street-based services to runaway and homeless youth. Many street youth are subjected to or at risk of sexual abuse, violence, trafficking, and sexual exploitation. This program expands the ability to help runaways and homeless youths by providing grants to not only nonprofit private agencies, but public agencies as well. 

These programs must have a plan for working with outreach programs to attract runaway or homeless youth, along with better records of the demographics and characteristics of the youth served know as the Street Outreach Program. Why is this important? It may help authorities track who is victimizing these children, and better understand how these criminals are networking to gain access to children. It will also assist the programs to scale their services to better serve the needs of the homeless youth so they can thrive.

A National support system will be established to help with training and technical assistance for grantees. To further assist runaway and homeless youth across the United States, a National Communications system with a call center to receive calls from youths and families in crisis. It will aid runaway and homeless youths to reconnect with their family and/or service providers. The Secretary of HHS will coordinate the activities among the many agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development , the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice.

Who are at risk?

Youth experiencing family problems, economic problems or difficulty in foster care or other public systems are most likely to end up on the streets. Studies show:

  • One in seven young people between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away
  • Youth age 12 to 17 are more at risk of homelessness than adults
  • 75 percent of runaways are female
  • Estimates of the number of pregnant homeless girls are between 6 and 22 percent
  • Between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning (GLBTQ)
  • 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth reported being physically abused, 38 percent reported being emotionally abused , and 17 percent reported being forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member
  • 75 percent percent of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out or will drop out of school

The downside, only two grants are awarded per state to rural areas and funding is remaining at $140 million per fiscal year for the general programs, $25 million per year for the sexual abuse prevention program, and $2 million per fiscal year for the national study. It is wonderful that the programs are including a nondiscrimination clause and requiring performance standards, but with costs rising, more funding may be necessary to assure greater success for these programs to help the youth of our country. Currently, the biggest hurdle is getting it through Congress. 

 

Resources: SafeHorizon, HappyHippies, TLC, PositiveTomorrows, ChildrenFirstAcademy, NationalRunawaySafeline