NRS Statistics on Runaways


All statistics listed on this page come from peer-reviewed journals and federal studies. 

Prevalence of runaways

Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year. 1 2

Youth aged 12-17 are at higher risk for homelessness than adults. 3 4


Motivations for running away

47% of runaway / homeless youth indicated that conflict between them and their parent or guardian was a major problem. 5 *

Over 50% of youth in shelters and on the streets reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care. 6

80% of runaway and homeless girls reported having ever been sexually or physically abused. 34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home and forty-three percent of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before leaving home. 7

Childhood abuse increases youths' risk for later victimization on the street. Physical abuse is associated with elevated risk of assaults for runaway and homeless youth, while sexual abuse is associated with higher risk of rape for runaway and homeless youth. 7


Risk factors associated with running away

Over 70% of runaway and throwaway youth in 2002 were estimated to be endangered, based on 17 indicators of harm or potential risk. The most common endangerment component was physical or sexual abuse at home or fear of abuse upon return. The second most common endangerment component was the youth’s substance dependency. 1

12% of runaway and homeless youth spent at least one night outside, in a park, on the street, under a bridge or overhang, or on a rooftop. 5 *

7% of youth in runaway and homeless youth shelters and 14% of youth on the street had traded sex for money, food, shelter, or drugs in the last twelve months when surveyed in 1995. 6

32% of runaway and homeless youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. 5 *

Approximately 48.2% of youth living on the street and 33.2% of youth living in a shelter reported having ever been pregnant. 8

50% of homeless youth age 16 or older reported having dropped out of school, having been expelled, or having been suspended.


Demographics of runaways

Runaway youth are 50% male and 50% female, although females are more likely to seek help through shelters and hotlines. 1

40% of youth in shelters and on the street have come from families that received public assistance or lived in publicly assisted housing. 6

* As indicated to shelter staff at a federally funded runaway or homeless shelter


Commercial Sexual Exploitation Of Children

Nine percent of runaway youth in a non-random sample of over 1,600 youth reported engaging in survival sex at some point in their lives.10
Approximately 10% of shelter youths and 28% of street youths report having participated in survival sex. Survival sex includes the exchange of sex for shelter, food, drugs, or other subsistence needs.11


GLBTQ Issues

GLBTQ youth are more likely to run away from home than heterosexual youth.12

Among youth who experience homelessness GLBTQ youth are more likely to stay with a stranger and less likely to stay in a shelter than heterosexual youth.12
GLBT youth suffer disproportionate hardships when they age out of the foster care system.
While many youth who age out of the foster care system suffer economic hardship, 38 percent of LGBT youth report not being able to pay their rent in the past year compared to 25 percent of heterosexual youth.13
GLBT youth who age out of the foster care system report high levels of food insecurity with 34 percent of youth reporting that they had been hungry but couldn't afford food at some point during the past year compared to 14 percent of heterosexual youth.13


Victimization of Runaway Youth

In a non-random sample of girls who run away from home, those who have been sexually abused are more likely to be physically and sexually victimized while on the street than those with no history of sexual abuse.14


Reaching Runaway Youth

In a convenience sample of young homeless adults internet use is fairly high with 46 percent reporting daily access and 93 percent reporting access at least once a week. Most of the youth surveyed accessed the internet from a social service agency (60%) or library (54%).15


Supportive Factors and Risk Factors for Runaway Youth

Among homeless youth who attend school, having a supportive adult in the community other than a parent or guardian reduces the risk of substance abuse.16
Among homeless youth who attend school the likelihood of substance abuse is increased by gang membership, partner violence, and truancy.16
In a convenience sample from four U.S. cities likelihood of arrest is positively correlated with length of time on the street. Youth on the street for longer periods of time have a higher likelihood of involvement with the juvenile justice system.17
Running away from home has a detrimental effect on likelihood of high school graduation rates. The effect of runaway behavior is larger for youth who run away multiple times than those who run away a single time.18




1. Hammer, H., Finkelhor, D., & Sedlak, A. (2002). Runaway / Thrownaway Children: National Estimates and Characteristics. National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

2. Greene, J. (1995). Youth with Runaway, Throwaway, and Homeless Experiences: Prevalence, Drug Use, and Other At-Risk Behaviors. Research Triangle Institute. HHS. ACF - ACYF.

3. Link, B., Susser, E., Stueve, A., Phelan, J., Moore, R., Struening, E. (1994). Lifetime and Five-year Prevalence of Homelessness in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 84, No. 12. pp 1907-1912.

4. Ringwalt, C., Greene, J., Robertson, M., & McPheeters, M. (1998). The Prevalence of Homelessness Among Adolescents in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 88, Iss. 9

5. Westat, Inc. 1997. National Evaluation of Runaway and Homeless Youth. Washinton, DC: US Dep't of HHS, Admin on Children, Youth and Families.

6. Greene, J. (1995). Youth with Runaway, Throwaway, and Homeless Experiences: Prevalence, Drug Use, and Other At-Risk Behaviors Research Triangle Institute. HHS. ACF - ACYF.

7. Molnar, B., Shade, S., Kral, A., Booth, R., & Watters, J. (1998). Suicidal Behavior and Sexual / Physical Abuse Among Street Youth. Child Abuse & Neglect. Vol. 22, NO. 3, pp. 213-222.

8. Greene, J., & Ringwalt, C. (1998). Pregnancy Among Three National Samples of Runaway and Homeless Youth. Journal of Adolescent Health. 23; 6; pp. 370-377.

9. Homeless and Runaway Youth Receiving Services at federally Funded shelters. United States General Accounting Office. GAO/HRD-90-45

10. Walls, E., & Bell, S. (2011). Correlates of Engaging in Survival Sex among Homeless Youth and Young Adults. Journal of Sex Research, 48(5), 423–436.

11. Greene, J., Ennett, S., & Ringwalt, C. (1999). Prevalence and Correlates of Survival Sex Among Runaway and Homeless Youth. American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 89, No. 9.

12. Rice, E., Barman-Adhikari, A., Rhoades, H., Winetrobe, H., Fulginitti, A., Astor, R., … Kordic, T. (In Press, Available Online). Homelessness Experiences, Sexual Orientation, and Sexual risk Taking Among High School Students in Los Angeles. Journal of Adolescent Health.

13. Dworsky, A. (2013). The Economic Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care. Mathematica Policy Research.

14. Tyler, K., Gervais, S., & Davidson, M. M. (2013). The Relationship Between Victimization and Substance use Among Homeless and Runaway Female Adolescents. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(3), 474–493.

15. Pollio, D., Batey, S., Bender, K., Ferguson, K., & Thompson, S. (2013). Technology Use among emerging Adult Homeless in Two U.S. Cities. Social Work, 58(2), 173–175.

16. Ferguson, K., & Xie, B. (2012). Adult Support and Substance use Among Homeless youths Who Attend High School. Child Youth Care Forum, 41, 427–445.

17. Ferguson, K., Bender, K., Thompson, S., Xie, B., & Pollio, D. (2012). General Strain Predictors of Arrest History Among Homeless youth from Four United States Cities. OJJDP Journal of Juvenile Justice, 1(2).

18. Aratani, Y., & Cooper, J. (In Press, Available Online). The Effects of Runaway-Homeless Episodes on High School Dropout. Youth and Society.

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