An estimated 1.6 to 2.8 million youth run away or are evicted by their caregivers in the US each year. Youth in foster care are twice as likely to exhibi runaway behaviors as youth in the general population. They frequently face dangerous situations, engage in high-risk behaviors, and have problems that include drug and alcohol abuse, severe emotional and conduct disorders, school failure, criminal behavior, and victimization. Yet little research has explored how best to decrease running away of youth in foster care, and virtually no interventions are available to support providers working with these youth. To address this challenge, the Center for Social Innovation (C4) and the University of South Florida's Department of Child and Family Studies (USF) propose to adapt USF's assessment and intervention tool [Functional Assessment Interview for Runaways (FAIR)] into an innovative, highly interactive, and widely accessible web-based tool entitled Function First: An Online Assessment and Intervention Tool to Reduce Runaways.
The specific aims of the project are to: 1) develop an innovative, prototype web-based tool to support child welfare providers working with youth who are engaging in runaway behaviors, 2) conduct pilot testing and determine the feasibility of a larger Phase II study that would include testing the effectiveness of Function First, and 3) synthesize findings to demonstrate proof of concept for Phase II, including exploration of the product's market in the child welfare field. "Function First includes a comprehensive training that teaches providers how to conduct interviews and plan interventions using the FAIR, employing interactive, multimedia technologies that integrate didactic information, activities, and cases;and an online version of the FAIR that assists providers in identifying the underlying motivations of the youths'runaway behaviors and appropriate interventions. In this Phase I study, C4 will pilot the tool and determine the feasibilty of conducting a larger study on effectiveness of the tool. The team will conduct a formative evaluation that will include collecting and analyzing data to refine the product and examine the usefulness of Function First for child welfare providers in assessing and intervening youth who run away. Semi-structured interviews and surveys will be conducted with service providers (n=19) in two child welfare organizations that are attempting to address runaway behaviors. Data will include provider perceptions of their ability to assess and intervene with runaway youth after completing Function First, content gaps, perceptions on components of the tool, facilitators and barriers to use and adoption, utility, application, and potential market for Function First. Semi-structured interviews with administrators (n=5) from across the country will also be conducted and will focus on facilitators and barriers to use, adoption, and their perspectives on the market for the product. Data will allow the team to revise the product content, refine usability, and determine the market for this type of tool in child welfare before a Phase II effectiveness study.

Public Health Relevance

Youth in child welfare systems who run away from placement often end up in situations where they engage in high-risk behaviors, drugs and alcohol, and criminal behavior, and where they are highly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and human traffickers who specifically target youth in foster care. Yet caseworkers report a lack of knowledge on how to help maintain and stabilize youth placements, and virtually no interventions are available to support providers working with these youth. The Center for Social Innovation, in collaboration with the University of South Florida, proposes to develop Function First: An Online Assessment and Intervention Tool to Reduce Runaways, an innovative, interactive online training and assessment tool to prepare providers to intervene with youth engaging in runaway behaviors.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Small Business Innovation Research Grants (SBIR) - Phase I (R43)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-HDM-X (10))
Program Officer
Mann Koepke, Kathy M
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Center for Social Innovation, LLC
United States
Zip Code