About 10 years ago, Laurel Edinburgh, a nurse practitioner at the Midwest Children’s Resource Center at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minn. began to realize there were not services
dedicated to young girls who run away from home, given many of whom find themselves victim of extreme sexual assault or exploitation, including
prostitution and rape. Often girls in this situation are also subject to other high-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol use and attempted suicide.
These issues often co-occur with truancy and as a result, the girls do not receive help in school and become even more isolated and vulnerable to being
To bridge this gap, Edinburgh helped create the Runaway Intervention Program— a team of pediatric nurse practitioners who visit the girls wherever they are
staying. The nurse practitioners provide immediate access to health care, crisis mental health counseling and health education. The program, now in its
tenth year, aims to reconnect the girls with their families and school relationships, reintroduce protective relationships back into their lives, reduce
trauma, and restore healthy behaviors.
Edinburgh developed a list of ten questions for police to use when questioning these young runaway girls which does not place blame, but rather treats them
as victims in need of help, not troublemakers.
A simple question—Why did you leave home?—can lead to other unscripted questions that lend an inside view to their home situation. The program then offers
these at-risk girls treatment for substance abuse, health exams and health education, group counseling and home visits by nurses. It also uses creative
problem-solving strategies that involve prosecutor and police participation, as well as program administrators to improve communication between family
members, helping girls stay in school and find the support they need to be healthy.
Research supports the effectiveness of the Runaway Intervention Program. Studies have shown that remarkably by six to 12 months into the program, girls
tend to improve so much that in most areas they were indistinguishable from girls in school who had never been abused. Within that same time frame:
More than half were no longer having sex
- Most lowered their alcohol, marijuana or other drug use to the same levels as their non-abused peers
- None had attempted suicide
- Most reported the same levels of self-esteem, feeling cared about by other adults and higher school connectedness than non-abused girls
- Researchers also found significant reductions in emotional distress and risky sexual behaviors
The program is currently being considered as a public-health model that can be duplicated across Minnesota for treating child trafficking victims.
Recently, Minnesota Public Radio, a local affiliate of National Public Radio, featured the Runaway Intervention Program and interviewed Laurel Edinburgh
and young victims who participated in the program. The broadcast is available here.