Community Mental Health Journal

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 247-258

First online:

Agency-Based Tracking of Difficult-to-Follow Populations: Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs in St. Louis, Missouri

  • David E. PollioAffiliated withGeorge Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University
  • , Sanna J. ThompsonAffiliated withState University of New York
  • , Carol S. NorthAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, Washington University

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Objectives. This study explored agency-based tracking methods for one of the most difficult-to-follow populations: runaway and homeless youth. Methods. A total of 118 program discharges from three federally funded agencies serving runaway/homeless youth in St. Louis, Missouri were tracked for a follow-up study of this population. Agency staff attempted to locate and interview program participants three months post-discharge using a protocol that systematically varied times and location of contact attempts. Separate analyses were conducted to compare the group of subjects whose locations were ascertained with those who were not, and who were successfully interviewed with those who were not. Variables related to the tracking protocol and individual descriptive and service use variables were examined in these analyses. Results. Sixty-nine percent of the sample was successfully located and fifty-nine percent interviewed. Significant findings included: fewer contact attempts over fewer days were made for individuals successfully interviewed, individuals tracked through Division of Family Services were less likely to be both located and interviewed, and individuals successfully located were significantly younger. Conclusions. This report provides encouraging evidence that even relatively unsophisticated protocols for tracking agency clients developed in collaboration with community agencies can—with consistent implementation—yield follow-up samples that are acceptably representative of program participants.