Risk behavior of runaways who return home

Elizabeth Mayfield Arnold, Eun Young Song, Claudine Legault, Mark Wolfson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Purpose: Few studies have examined the risk behaviors of youth who run away and return home. Most studies have focused on youth who end up as chronic runaways or become homeless for whom the expected trajectory is a path filled with numerous negative outcomes.Methods: Using data from a multisite phone survey of a random sample of youth aged 16-20 years (N = 1191), we present comparisons of runaways and non-runaways on demographic and background variables, alcohol and drug use, and sexual behavior (sex without birth control). Also, reasons for running away and services received after running away were examined.Results: Runaway status was strongly associated with each of the risk behaviors examined. The adjusted odds ratios for runaway status were higher for all behaviors (alcohol use, binge drinking, illegal prescription drug use, and sex without birth control) compared with the odds ratios for the other independent variables. More than half of runaways reported running away because of family problems, and only about one-third received any services after the most recent runaway episode.Conclusions: The findings from this study suggest that running away from home is a risk factor for future risky behaviors (substance use and sex without birth control), even when youth return home and do not end up on the streets. Interventions are needed for youth who return home as it cannot be assumed that returning eliminates the risk of using substances or engaging in sex without birth control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-297
Number of pages15
JournalVulnerable Children and Youth Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • birth control
  • health services needs
  • risk-taking
  • runaways
  • substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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