The first study of homeless teens in the Midwest finds they were driven from home, often by physical and sexual abuse. It also shows they’re likely to turn around and abuse their own children. Research sociologist Kurt Johnson at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln surveyed dozens of teens in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, as well as Omaha, Lincoln, Wichita, Kansas City and St Louis. They’re not so much runaway as thrown away, by irresponsible or incapable parents who pushed them from the home. Johnson says many kids living on the streets show the same symptoms as survivors of a war or disaster. He says they measure four mental problems — major depression, substance abuse, cognitive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder and that last has affected a quarter of the boys and 40-percent of the homeless teenage girls. The researchers work with a coalition of social-service agencies called MINK, for Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. They easily found 60 kids in each city within nine months, and he says they could go out and find another 60 any day. He says it’s kind of an “invisible population” and so they work with agencies who help the kids, so they can find them. Johnson says once the homeless teens “age out” of support systems aimed at helping them, they still lack the skills to make a living and get along — and are likely to repeat the cycle.He says the system “feeds on itself” and these kids start families at an early age, and have their own issues of abuse as parents, a cycle the researchers want to see broken. Johnson says the study’s not over but when it is complete, the results will be used to try and craft programs that help homeless teens.
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