Runaway behavior among adolescents in residential care: The role of personal characteristics, victimization experiences while in care, social climate, and institutional factors

Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Existing research on runaway behavior among young people in care is severely limited, based mainly on small-scale samples, adult reports and administrative data. The research to date focuses mainly on children's characteristics and pre-care experiences rather than on placement-centered correlates. The present study examines the occurence and multilevel correlates of runaway behavior among Israeli Arab and Jewish adolescents aged 11 to 19 in residential care for at-risk children.The study is based on a sample of 1324 adolescents in 32 rehabilitative and therapeutic settings who completed a structured anonymous questionnaire. Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) was used to examine the relationships among adolescents' reports of runaway behavior, individual-level characteristics (age, gender, adjustment difficulties, victimization by peers and staff, and perceived social climate), and institution-level characteristics (setting type, size, structure, and ethnic affiliation). Overall, 44.2% of the adolescents reported that since their admission to the current setting they had run away or attempted to run away at least once. Inclination to more frequent runaway behavior was found to be high for older adolescents, adolescents who had been in the institution for longer periods, those with more adjustment difficulties, those who had experienced more physical violence by peers and staff at the residential care setting (RCS), and those who perceived staff as strict and unsupportive. Runaway behavior is positively associated with residence in Jewish settings (vs. Arab settings) and negatively associated with the size of the institution. The interaction between gender and ethnic affiliation showed that gender differences were more extreme within the Arab group than within the Jewish group.The findings demonstrate the need for an ecological perspective in addressing adolescent runaway behavior in the care system. It reflects a growing shift in the literature from regarding running away from care as a personal deviance and symptom of pathological behavior to seeing it as a phenomenon largely affected by the context in which the child lives.Policy makers and RCS professionals should be aware of the multilevel risk factors of adolescents running away from care facilities. This awareness can assist in developing RCS staff's ability to identify youth at risk for running away, as well as settings that are more likely to have runaways, and to develop intervention programs designed to reduce that risk.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)258-267
Number of pages10
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Ethnic affiliation
  • Gender
  • Peer violence
  • Residential care
  • Runaway
  • Staff maltreatment


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