18May 2005


Runaway teens need not run

Michelle Forkin was 13 when she walked into her house and discovered both parents had attempted suicide and were clinging to life. She didn't want police to take her away. So, after her parents were rushed to the hospital, she fled.
的 went upstairs to get my stuff, and I climbed out a window and ran to a friend's house, she said. Her friend's mother gave her money to go to Boston and live with her sister, who was a college student.
When she returned home to Bethlehem two months later, Forkin learned about Valley Youth House, a non-profit organization offering a safe haven for runaway teens. For six months, the shelter's social workers helped her family resolve its problems so she could live safely at home.
Now 25, Forkin is a full-time social worker and a graduate student trying to spread the word about Valley Youth House, which has a Bucks County location in Warminster.

The Warminster shelter opened in 2002 on the campus of Christ's Home for Children on York Road. During its first year, it was open to children referred by Bucks County Children and Youth Services. A year later, the shelter received a three-year, $175,000 annual grant and opened its doors to runaway and homeless youths, ages 12 to 18.
的t is important for them to understand there is help available, said Jerrie Shelton, the shelter's director. 鄭 child has to want to be here. It's a voluntary program.
Before the Warminster shelter opened, runaways typically went house-hopping from friend to friend, said Robert Robertson Jr., executive vice president of Valley Youth House.

Some still do.

鄭 lot of times, these kids have to go underground, hide in closets until parents go to work, staying until a parent catches on, said Forkin, who works at the Bethlehem shelter. 鉄ome just walk the streets or hide in parks.
Valley Youth House is hoping such kids will come to the shelter instead or at least call its 24-hour hot line for help. The only other Bucks County shelter for runaways was near Quakertown, but it closed before the Warminster shelter opened.
Four of the 12 beds in the pale yellow, two-story house are available to kids for up to two weeks, Shelton said. Youths can be referred to the shelter by anyone, including a guidance counselor or minister, and also can come in on their own with no referral at all, she said.
The number of runaways seeking shelter has tripled from 10 in the first year to 30 so far this year, with 50 expected by year's end, Shelton said, and there are even more teens who need help.
Last year, 98 youngsters spent time at the facility, and 20 of them were runaways and homeless youths.
的t's kind of an interim place, until they return home or move on to foster care, Robertson said. 展e can be really successful with the families in reuniting them.
Many face serious problems. They can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment, Robertson said.

Standing inside a room shared by two girls, Forkin said the social workers from the Bethlehem shelter helped stabilize her childhood home and created her desire to help teens in similar predicaments.
Her efforts to increase public awareness of the Warminster shelter is part of an internship for a graduate school program at Kutztown University, she said.
The house functions like a well-run family home, requiring youths to help with chores, including dinner preparation and laundry. Like a family, the kids and the staff eat and talk together at a long dining table.
展e try to normalize life as much as possible, Shelton said.
Some of the youngsters are bused to their home schools, while others attend a one-room schoolhouse in the lower level of the shelter. The kids are given lots of opportunities to have their voices heard and even help shelter staff design their treatment, Shelton said.

Jodi Spiegel Arthur
18 May 2005

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