Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Social Welfare

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 114 pages) : illustrations, map.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Barry Loneck

Committee Members

Jiang Yu, Evelyn Kintner


Runaway children, Foster children, Foster home care, Child welfare, Crisis intervention (Mental health services), Emotions in children

Subject Categories

Social Work


Youth elopement from out-of-home placement settings, an act colloquially referred to as AWOL, is a frequent and extremely risky outcome for youth and a key concern for child welfare entities. AWOL is hypothesized here as a maladaptive coping response to the experience of out-of-home placement as a crisis-inducing event. Conceiving of AWOL as a response to a crisis state redefines apparent risk factors as crisis origins and enables an understanding of which youth may experience a removal and out-of-home placement event as crisis inducing. Factors related to AWOL outcomes are embedded within an ecological systems framework and the interactions between risk factors across systems levels are considered, including the important role of sex, racial identity and ethnicity, age, and substance abuse in AWOL outcomes. The application of hierarchal, stepwise penalized likelihood logistic regression models to federal foster care data facilitates this multi-level analysis and addresses concerns regarding rare events data along the dependent variable. This study finds that actions in the child welfare system—namely the provision of therapeutic services and the selection of a permanency goal—play an important role in influencing whether a youth will overcome the hazards of placement and avoid a prompt AWOL outcome. While these findings cannot prove that a sub-set of youth who AWOL from out-of-home placement do so as a result of a crisis state, the application of crisis theory yields several noteworthy findings and invites future consideration of this theoretical understanding of AWOL. Embedding crisis origins within an ecological systems framework enables a more dynamic profile of youth who AWOL than prior studies have allowed and demands an understanding of AWOL not as a singular outcome but rather a complex manifestation of several potential issues for youth in out-of-home placement.

Included in

Social Work Commons