Away from Supervision

A Customized Training for Residential Care Providers

Away from Supervision manual cover

What does AFS mean? What is an "away from supervision" incident? Or better yet, in the kids' language, what is a runaway? How long must a child be away before he/she is labeled a "runner"? If a child returns within a short amount of time, is this incident still considered a "runaway"? Can anything be done to prevent a child from running?

All are valid questions, and up until a few years ago, we did not have a concrete definition to define a runaway, nor actually, did we have a method to measure the number of runaways per agency nor in the State. Defining, responding to and reporting a runaway was often an arbitrary agency decision, and aside from anecdotal information, child-care providers had little reference to judge their agencies' number of runaway incidents compared to other agencies.

Concerned providers from the West Virginia Child Care Association (WVCCA) formed a work group to tackle the runaway issue and brainstorm possible interventions to help decrease the number of Away From Supervision (AFS) incidents in residential care. The number of runaways from residential care facilities were increasing at a concerning rate, but it was too easy to say simply that the children entering residential care are more troubled than years past. While the latter is true, nonetheless the committee sought to be proactive rather than reactive. This completed curriculum is one of the many results of this year-long project.

Another example of the Committee's achievement has been to develop a definition of an "away from supervision" event that has been State approved. Away from Supervision has been defined as "a youth being away without consent from a previously defined boundary for more than 15 (fifteen) minutes resulting in staff's inability to intervene." This is the definition that is used consistently throughout the curriculum. Recognizing the inevitability of jargon, the words "runaway" and "away from supervision" are used interchangeably throughout the curriculum.

This curriculum is not a cure-all and this was never the intent. The premise of these AFS Guidelines is that the runaway problem is a critical one and that cannot be solved by conventional child care practices. These Guidelines propose we take a fresh look at the runaway problem. The Guidelines are a compilation of brainstorming, proven techniques and sometimes, new and creative strategies that the committee believes are congruent with good child care practice.

However, pay particular attention to the word "guidelines". They are just that - guidelines, suggestions for dealing with and preventing runaways. Think, if you will, that the AFS Curriculum is an outline for working with children in crisis and at-risk of running away; an outline that provides you with the necessary components, but deliberately leaves blanks for you to fill in. The curriculum challenges agencies to critique their current practice and make changes as needed.

The AFS Guidelines Curriculum is a bag of tricks. We are not saying that every agency should implement every suggestion as is. Rather we hope this will prompt agencies to choose what they need, what they will use and implement them-now. It is believed that the strategies outlined in this curriculum are simply good child care practices. Furthermore, the committee believes that judicious use of these strategies and skills will not only decrease AFS incidents but they have the potential to filter into and strengthen other aspects of programming.

Children running away from residential care situations is not new. Children run; sometimes they return quickly on their own, or are brought back, and sometimes they do not return at all. Regardless of the intent, children have run with increasing frequency and we as child care providers have been slow in responding. It is hoped that the guidelines will repair that deficiency.