Health + Behavior

UCLA’s Project Strive Seeks to Reunite Runaway Teens and Families

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Whenemotions swell between teenager and parent, both sides sometimes say and dothings they later wish they could take back. Imagine the fear when tempersreach the point where the teen runs away or is kicked out of the house. Wherehas my child gone, asks the frantic parent. Where will I go, asks thefrightened teen.

Themore than two million teens who have run away or were told to leave due tounresolved family conflict represent a national emergency — and a tragedy.

"It'stragic, since most families actually love each other; their main problem is notknowing how to handle conflict," said Norweeta Milburn, UCLA associate researchpsychologist and director of UCLA's Project Strive (Support To Reunite, Involve and Value Each Other), aresearch project targeting teens who leave home and their families.

Part of the Center forCommunity Health at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior atUCLA, Project Strive offers an intervention program for families in Los Angeles County. Approximately 320 adolescentsbetween the ages of 12 and 17 and their families are being recruited in aneffort to reduce chronic adolescent homelessness and HIV-related risk behaviorsby teaching teens and their parents or guardians the skills necessary to dealwith unresolved conflict and family separation.

Whenteens are adrift, some end up on the streets, while others move from shelter toshelter or "couch surf" at the homes of friends. Many teens do eventuallyreturn home, but because the family conflict often remains unresolved, theyleave again and again, with more and more time spent away from the home as aresult.

"Thekey is to interrupt this cycle of evolving problem behaviors while adolescentsare still newly homeless," said Francisco Javier Iribarren, project directorfor Project Strive. "Otherwise, over time, they typically develop socialnetworks with chronically homeless individuals and progressively engage in moreHIV-related risk behaviors."

Theintervention techniques are useful for teens who have left home, as well as forthose who have returned, and involve five short-term skill-building sessionsbetween parents and the adolescent. Techniques to manage emotions, tocommunicate in a positive way and to learn problem-solving skills are taught toprevent further runaway episodes that can eventually lead to chronichomelessness. The sessions can take place either at the agency or in the home,depending on where it is most comfortable and convenient for the teen and theirfamily.

ProjectStrive's staff is ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse, saidIribarren, and is ideally suited to serving Los Angeles County'svery diverse families.

"ProjectStrive's vision is unique," said Ted Knoll,executive director of the Whittier First Day Homeless Coalition and a Project Strivecollaborator. "Its goal is to prevent teenagers from becoming chronicallyhomeless. As someone serving this population, I find Strive to be criticallyimportant, especially since there is nothing like it out there."

Theeffort is being funded by a five-year grant from the National Institute ofMental Health. For more information on Project Strive, please contact theproject assessment coordinator, Katie Maresca, at (310) 794-6076 or via e-mailat kmaresca@mednet.ucla.edu.

TheSemel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA is aninterdisciplinary research and education institute devoted to the understandingof complex human behavior, including the genetic, biological, behavioral andsociocultural underpinnings of normal behavior and the causes and consequencesof neuropsychiatric disorders. In addition to conducting fundamental research,the institute faculty seeks to develop effective treatments for neurological andpsychiatric disorders, improve access to mental health services, and shapenational health policy regarding neuropsychiatric disorders.

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