CYC-Net on Facebook CYC-Net on Twitter Search CYC-Net

Join Our Mailing List

Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

ListenListen to this

Social support networks in services for adolescents and their families

Richard Bath

Running away removes young people from intolerable situations – at least temporarily. Minors leave home under diverse circumstances – some leave home voluntarily, while others go on command. Some run to escape crisis, others to experience pleasure (Brennan, Huizinga, & Elliott, 1978). Many do not run far or stay away for long periods (Opinion Research Corporation, 1976), although more than ever runaways do not return to the long-term care of their families (Beyer, 1980). Whatever the causes, the outcomes for runaway youth and their families often include the ignominies of rape, disease, sexual slavery, violence, prostitution, and larceny.

Runaways, whether gay or straight, male of female, trade the certain intolerability or home for the uncertain promise of a new locale. Some tap networks of other runaways – perhaps the most notorious example is that of Charles Manson whose "family" found him through the runaway grapevine. Certainly, many runaways carry with them the baggage of the poor peer-relations and a propensity toward social estrangement (Adams, 1980). Hungry for membership in a caring network, unable to find one or to feel like they fit anywhere, runaways represent the essence of our culture’s current ambivalence about attachment.

Few runaways seek contact with social service providers. As "aliens in their own land," runaways avoid people who are unappreciative and threatening to their independence (Miller et al., 1980). Even "throwaways," frequently blaming themselves for their status and harboring fears of future confrontations with parents, will shun formal services in order to avoid further rejection. This underserved cohort maintains its distance from standard adult service providers (Schipp & Vivian, 1982). The distance from professionals both necessitates and impedes the implementation of social support networks.

Social supports for runaways.
Runaways, as different as they are similar, present special problems for social support networks. Runaway typologies, however, provide some logic for the application of social support networks (Brennan, 1980). Class 1 runaways are "not highly delinquent, and nonalienated" and differ from Class 2 runaways, who are "delinquent and alienated." Class 1 runaways fall into subtypes of young escapists from overcontrolling parents, middle-class loners, or partially emancipated, peer-oriented youth. Class 1 adolescents seem more amenable than Class 2 runaways to services that incorporate social support networking.

Families of Class 1 runaways differ little from those of nonrunaways (Nye, 1980). They can often profit from family therapy, school counseling, and social skills training (Adams, 1980). Social supports can complement such services in rebuilding runaways’ attachments to their families, to the neighborhood – school community, or to both. For youths escaping overcontrolling parents, networking provides the family with information on reasonable norms, positive models of negotiation, and a boost to family morale (Rueveni, 1979).

Although they may be relatively open to networking, middle-class loners may be even more open to intense contacts with a single peer or adult. The strain at home may be eased by contact with peer-to-peer counselors (Gray & Tindall, 1978b), attachments at the work site (Steinberg et al in press), and the instruction and incentives for building friendships provided by network members. Finally, the unrestrained, peer-directed youth may be ready for emancipation and not in need of "treatment." Nevertheless, these youth may need encouragement and skills in order to develop community-based supports that will help them through the initial adjustments of "not quite adult" life (Schenk & Schenk, 1978).


Adam, G. R. Runaway youth projects: Comments on care programs for runaways and throwaways. Journal of Adolescence, 1980, 3, 321-334

Beyer, M. Continuing care for runaways. Journal of Family Issues, 1980 , 1, 300-302

Brennan, T., Huizinga, D., & Elliott, D. S.(1978). The social psychology of runaways. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, Opinion Research Corporation (1976). National statistical survey of runaway youth. Princeton, NJ: ORC

Brennan, T. (1980) Mapping the diversity among runaways: A descriptive multivariate analysis of selected social psychological background conditions. Journal of Family Issues, 1, 165-189

Miller, D., Hoffman, F., & Duggan, R., Runaway – illegal aliens in their own land: Implications for service. New York: J. F. Bergin, 1980

Nye, F. I. (1980). Runaways: Some critical issues for professionals and society. Cooperative Extension Bulletin. Pullman, WA,: Washington State University

Rueveni, U. Networking families in crisis. Journal of Personality Assessment, 1980, 44 (6) 653-654
Gray, H. D., & Tindall, J. A. (1978b) Peer Counseling: An in-depth look at peer helping. Muncie, In: Accelerated Development Inc.

Schenk, Q. F., & Schenk, E. L. Pulling up roots. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Casework, 1979, 60, 195-200

Schipp, W. & Vivian, P (1982). Foster care for gay youth. Seattle, WA: The Shelter.

Steinberg, L. D., Greenberger, E., Jacobi, M. & Garduque, G. Early work experience: A partial antidote for adolescent egocentrism. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, in press.

Barth, R. (1983). Social support networks in services for adolescents and their families. In Whittaker, J. K. & Garbarino, J. Social support Networks Informal Helping in the Human Services. NY: Aldine Publishing Company. p.311-312

The International Child and Youth Care Network

Registered Public Benefit Organisation in the Republic of South Africa (PBO 930015296)
Incorporated as a Not-for-Profit in Canada: Corporation Number 1284643-8

P.O. Box 23199, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa | P.O. Box 21464, MacDonald Drive, St. John's, NL A1A 5G6, Canada

Board of Governors | Constitution | Funding | Site Content and Usage | Advertising | Privacy Policy | Contact us

iOS App Android App