The mission of the National Runaway Switchboard (NRS) is to keep America’s runaway and at-risk youth safe and off the streets.
The National Runaway Switchboard is the federally designated national communication system for runaway and homeless youth, the only organization to ever hold that distinction.
Crisis Intervention: NRS operates a hotline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All calls to the crisis line are confidential. The front line team of staff and volunteers receive 36.5 hours of training to provide non-judgmental and non-directive support.
Information & Referrals: A database of more than 16,000 youth and family agencies provides countless options for callers to access counseling, alternative housing, basic center/shelter services, alcohol/drug treatment, and child protective services. In addition, NRS maintains a hard copy library of reference materials to supplement the database.
Conference Calls: When youth request assistance contacting their family or an agency that can help them, NRS will facilitate a conference call. The front line team member remains on the line with the youth, helping to advocate in support of the youth.
Message Service: NRS maintains a message service for youth who want to relay a message but are not ready to communicate with their parent. NRS’ message service is the least intimidating means for a youth to reestablish contact with the parent/guardian and often serves as the first step toward reunification.
Home Free: In partnership with Greyhound Lines Inc., NRS helps reunite runaway youth with their families through a free bus ticket home. Over 10,000 youth have been reunited with families through the Home Free Program since 1995.
Prevention and Educational Materials: Educators can receive a free copy of the new NRS Runaway Prevention Curriculum complete with an eight-minute film, 1-800-RUNAWAY. NRS provides educational and promotional material free of charge to individuals and organizations to distribute within their community.
www.1800RUNAWAY.org: NRS’ website has three main goals: to direct calls to the hotline so that youth and families can receive individualized attention and support; to engage youth and families so they can access critical information before a runaway episode occurs; and to disseminate information about NRS, youth and runaways to the community. Since the new improved website went live on March 1, 2006, NRS experienced a 41% increase in visitors.
Founded by a group of Chicago agencies and originally named Metro Help, the hotline was established in 1971 to fill a need for comprehensive crisis intervention for young people in Chicago. Recognized as the oldest hotline of its kind in the world, it was conceived as a centralized organization with 24-hour services, expertise in all youth-related issues and as an information clearinghouse of youth services.
In 1974, the National Runaway Switchboard received an eight-month federal demonstration grant to establish a national hotline. During this time, 11,000 calls were received demonstrating the need for this type of service. Since then, NRS’ capabilities and services have grown considerably. On average, NRS handles more than 100,000 phone calls annually. The operations have grown to full-time equivalent of 20 paid, professional staff with the support of over 150 volunteers.
NRS’ services are provided through funding from and in partnership with the Family and Youth Services bureau in the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, private funding is raised from foundations, corporations and individuals.
As a non-profit organization, NRS depends heavily on volunteers. NRS volunteers include “liners” in its Chicago call center, who answer calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year from youth and families in crisis. Each liner completes 36.5 hours of specialized training to provide hotline support to callers from across the country. In addition, volunteers serve as task force members to help plan activities. Volunteer ambassadors across the country promote NRS by distributing runaway prevention educational materials and
1-800-RUNAWAY promotional materials. Volunteers are of every age and socio-economic background.
“It has been a unique honor and privilege to work with NRS. My callers have taught me more about the human experience and ultimately about myself, than they could ever know.”
- Kelvin Kakazu
2006 Volunteer of the Year