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The prevalence of disabilities and maltreatment among runaway children

Child Abuse & Neglect
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0145-2134(00)00181-2
  • Runaways
  • Disabilities
  • Child Maltreatment
  • Domestic Violence
  • School Achievement
  • Communication
  • Medicine


Abstract Objective. This research was conducted to determine the prevalence of disabilities among abused and nonabused runaways within a hospital population (Study 1) and community school population (Study 2) and to identify any associations between disability, maltreatment, family stress factors, academic achievement, school attendance, domestic violence and runaway status. Method: Descriptive information was collected for maltreated and nonmaltreated runaways from hospital ( N = 39,352; 255 runaways) and school ( N = 40,211; 562 runaways) populations including: disability status, type of maltreatment, family stress factors, record of domestic violence in the family, academic achievement and attendance. Results: The prevalence rate of disabilities among the maltreated runaways was 83.1% and 47% among the nonmaltreated runaways in the hospital sample and 34% and 17%, respectively, in the school sample. Children and youth with disabilities were at increased risk to become runaways in both populations. The presence of maltreatment significantly increased the association between running away and disability status. Children with behavior disorders, mental retardation, and some type of communication disorder were significantly more likely to run away than children with other disabilities. Among the maltreated runaways with and without disabilities, physical abuse and sexual abuse were significantly associated with running away. Records of domestic violence were more prevalent in the families of runaways with behavior disorders and no diagnosed disability. Lower academic achievement, poor school attendance, and more family stress factors were associated with maltreatment, disability and runaway status. Conclusions: Children and youth with disabilities are unidentified and unrecognized among runaways. Professionals working with runaways and their families need to be cognizant of the special needs of the population, particularly with respect to behavior disorders, communication disabilities, and mental retardation and reconsider current policy to routinely reunite runaways with their families when running away was precipitated by traumatagenic factors within the family.

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