Alone Without a Home
A State-by-State Review of Laws Affecting Unaccompanied Homeless Youth
Each year, an estimated 1.6 million children and youth (ages 12-17) experience homelessness without a parent or guardian. These youth leave home for a variety of reasons, including severe family conflict, parental abuse or neglect, parental mental health issues, or substance abuse.
Whether runaway or throwaway, once on the street, unaccompanied homeless youth face numerous legal barriers that often complicate their attempts to meet the basic necessities of life on their own and prevent them from reaching out for assistance to state agencies and service providers that could otherwise help them. Further complicating matters is that many of these laws vary considerably from state to state, creating misinterpretations by service providers and mistaken avoidance of services on the part of homeless youth who may fear being taken into state custody or assume they will be turned away.
This report reviews the state of current law in 12 key issue areas that affect the lives and future prospects of unaccompanied homeless youth in all 50 U.S. states and 6 territories. The report offers an overview of the range of approaches taken by states and their relative prevalence, and reveals significant differences in many cases.
The report also provides recommendations for policy change in each of the areas, with a view towards strengthening the supports available to unaccompanied youth. While many issues surrounding unaccompanied youth remain controversial, the aim of this report is to recommend steps that can protect their safety, development, health and dignity, and thus increase their prospects for positive future outcomes.