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Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Jun;21(6):517-28.

Families of homeless and runaway adolescents: a comparison of parent/caretaker and adolescent perspectives on parenting, family violence, and adolescent conduct.

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Department of Sociology, Iowa State University, Ames, USA.



Almost all of what is known about the families of runaways and homeless adolescents is based on adolescent self-reports. The validity of such research is currently being questioned by policy makers. The purpose of this study was to compare runaway and homeless adolescent reports and parent/caretaker reports on measures of parenting, family violence, and adolescent conduct.


Reports of 120 runaway adolescents and their parents/caretakers from four Midwestern states were compared on measures of parental monitoring, parental warmth and supportiveness, parental rejection, physical and sexual abuse, and adolescent conduct. Comparison groups of nonrunaway adolescents and their mothers in two-parent and single-parent families from the same geographical area were also used for parenting and adolescent conduct measures.


The findings indicated that although there were significant differences in means between adults and adolescents regardless of runaway status, adults and adolescent reports were in the same direction and present similar portraits of families of runaway and homeless young people. Both the parents/caretakers and their runaway adolescents reported lower levels of parental monitoring and warmth and supportiveness and higher levels of parental rejection than comparison groups of nonrunaway families. Parents/caretakers and runaway adolescents reported high levels of family violence and sexual abuse. Similarly, they concur regarding conduct problems for the adolescents.


The findings suggest that runaway and homeless adolescents accurately depict the troubled family situations that they choose to leave. The policy implications for recent debates involving criminalization and mandatory return to parental custody of homeless and runaway youth are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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