National Runaway Switchboard Disconnected

How it becomes hit or miss when a miss calls for help

0928/2012: Two teenage girls, stranded in Fort Pierce, Florida were found by an outreach worker from the a Florida youth shelter. The girls, both 19 years old, had previously run away and wanted to go back home to New York to their families. A street outreach worker took them back to the shelter and phoned the National Runaway Switchboard. Since they were 19 years old, though, the NRS hotline worker simply gave them the number to the Greyhound Bus station. Despite the fact that the NRS could have gotten them both Greyhound bus tickets for free, A Florida shelter had to purchase the tickets on their own. The problem was that only one of the girls had any identification and the busline will not let the other board.


The outreach worker then phoned another organization, which, in turn, called the NRS. The NRS hotline worker's response was to simply hang up the phone. A phone call to Greyhound coporate, however, wound up getting the girl onto the bus and on her way back home.

On their website the NRS talks about the trafficking you young women, but the simple fact is that they dropped the ball in this case. The National Runaway Switchboard, aka MetroHelp, is funded $2 million per year by the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services, and have been funded by them for more than three decades. At one point Boys Town had competed for their funding
, but lost out due to the fact that HRS gave significant extra points to the NRS for having been a past recipient. But, as with the quote, "With great power comes great responsibility," it was the NRS's responsibility to see to deal with Greyhound directly. What if these girls had run away years before and had finally decided to return home? What if there were no shelter to help them? What if their only alternative was to have prostituted themselves for some pimp that the NRS portrays as a human trafficker? It was not the place of the shelter to have to purchase bus tickets that the NRS could have gotten for free. It should be more than a matter of compiling the number of phone calls received each year, but the quality of service and their success. The fact that the Switchboard may handle 100,000 calls a years is irrelvant to the fact that they may have handled them all badly.

07/07/2011 re: Samantha D., 19, called from a bus terminal in Columbus, Ohio after having been abandoned there by boyfriend. Grandmother, Rosalee N., phoned here Thursday's Child at 6:41 PM stating that the National Runaway Switchboard had phoned her and told her she needed to fax over her drivers license and birth certificate. She said she called the the police and asked if she should do it and was told no; that it sounded like a scam. Thursday's Child phoned the NRS hotline, and was on hold for 15 minutes until a male worker answered. He refused to help and said his supervisor had instructed him to hang up, which he did. Phoning back and a woman answered. At first she apologized, then asked if they wanted to speak with the supervisor; but rather than pick up, the call was transferred to a recording meant to warn off crank callers. Rosalee also said the police office, Rudam, called and was also hung up on; she wound up paying for a ticket personally to get Samantha home.

0519/2003: Thursday's Child took a call at 1:00 AM from a from a recently turned 18 year old girl named Melissa, who was calling from the Sutter Roseville Hospital in Roseville, California. She had been given our number by the police, who said they couldn't help her. Her parents were deceased. Having lived in foster homes the last several years, she had been staying with an elderly woman, then left with a friend, who abandoned her thirty miles from her home. She had no money and only the clothes she had on. The one runaway shelter in nearby Sacramento refused to take her, because she was 18, but gave us a number to a place called After, which was closed. A call to the National Runaway Switchboard left the Thursday's Child worker on hold for more than 50 minutes without anyone ever answering. During that time, a repeated recording ranted on about all of their services and about how much they care. The NRS also promotes itself as a suicide line for teens. In between the ranting was incessant rock music, one song offering the lyrics, "Do you want to die." Finally, the Thursday's Child worker called the charge nurse at the hospital (after having Melissa on the line for well over an hour) and offered to send her money through PayPal to give to the girl for transportation home, The nurse, however, said that was her personal account and was unwilling to mix it with her job, but offered to talk to her. About fifteen minutes later, the nurse called back, and said the hospital would be giving her a voucher for a cab for her to be able to get home. No help from the NRS hotline. But beyond even the suicide music, imagine a suicidal teen phoning and being placed on hold for nearly an hour before anyone answered.

The National Runaway Switchboard is under contract with the federal government to assist youth 20 years old and younger.