Social Constructed Runaway Problem: A Look into Runaways by Karen Staller


Runaways by Karen Staller embody values of runaways shelter programs towards social constructed problems of the youths during 1960-1978. As an unconstructed problem, youth running away in the early years of 1960 reflected a simmering social condition that typified harmless adventures in the society. In light of this, Runaway is a qualitative case study which extensively addresses the moral panic that faced the youths within the wider milieu of socially constructed problem featuring teenage prostitutes and homeless teenagers.

Staller documents in a narrative way, the social work in the public problem construction and offers insights into the mechanics of how panic associated with moral issues changed the perception of the social programs of runaways. This paper seeks to review the entire concerns of Staller in Runaways basing on the influence of the problem of runaway, the origin of the runaway shelter movement and the value as well as goals that the public responses of runways embody.

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In 1960s and 1970s, runways among the youths became a national concern in America such that activist in the countercultural movement offered programs that supported the runaway youths. In this context of constructed social problems, the author Karen Staller provides a detailed analysis of the policies and programs that not only took place but also shaped the entire paradigm of runaway youth.

In this book Runaways, Staller examines how the ideas that developed after the runaways youth continued to leverage models of responding to programs of risk youth. By looking at the historical base of the runaways, Staller illuminates the various approaches in which the media as well as ideologies of the countercultural programs leveraged the identity and the perception of the social problem that was emerging and as a result, developments in service as well as social policies have evolved over the years.

A Review of Runaways

In Runaway, Karen Staller documents the issues of the runaways and the resultant implications that changed how the press treated the whole aspect of social problems. Reamer (2008) argues that while attempting to provide shelter services to runaways youths, the countercultural movement developed programs that attempted to expand their services to enhance contemporary and safe housing for the youths, most of whom had no means of returning home.

Similarly, the social agencies, in a bid to remedy this social concern, came up with schemas to establish trust between its clients. As runaway problems became alarming, Gambrill et al (2007) assert that the legal attentions were drawn with issues arising touching on runaway youths together with their parents. In the same vein, it becomes imperative that the approaches used by social programs and countercultural movement targeted not only specific situations but also the ages of the youths.

Sociologists maintain that Staller in Runaways examines the essence of policies and programs that shaped the American society in the 1960. In addition, the issues that the countercultural activists developed touched on the alternative service movement; guided by the objective to provide adequate responses to youths at risks. With regard to this, Hess and Mallon (2005) postulate that the biggest goal that Staller sought to accomplish in detailing the runaway youths, rests on the larger concern to work on large crisis centers for youths affected by runaways and those who appear to be homeless. In light of this, it is important to notice where the kind of crisis and service management originated from in terms of assisting the teenagers who suffered runaways.

To illustrate, Runaways extensively explores the reasons why and how the whole concern of running away came from to the point of forming a socially constructed social problems. To understand this element, it became imperative to factor in every possible force that leveraged the construction of this social problem.

In essence, Gambrill et al (2007) add that the grassroots organizers of the counterculture movement responded to the problem that had developed by coming up with runaways shelters able to service the larger child welfare system. Accordingly, it is clear that Staller details how congress embraced the shelter model enhanced by the counterculture movement playing a leading role in influencing the emergence of the runaway program; a legacy that still affects the practices as well as policies of addressing socially constructed problems in the modern society (Staller, 2006).

Runaways profoundly describes the changing attitude of the American society towards the challenging social concerns and highlights the fast paced steps taken to  design programs to address. Reamer (2008) outlines that the reputable organizations that came in place offered services that addressed the socially constructed problems that were affecting the American society especially the youths. With regard to this, Staller integrates the perspective of social work in the light of policy analysis to understand the element of youth permanency practice thus providing a pedestal upon which the runaway youth achieved foster care as well as shelter. Researchers examine that what is considered as the effects of the runaway effects on teenagers originated on social, economic and political aspects in the society particularly in family setup (Hess and Mallon, 2005).

As such, the mainstream media in the 1960s began characterizing the acts of running away as an opportunity for adventures that were exciting. The fundamental aspect of the wholesome social element bordered the precincts of the dangerous consequences. This way, the countercultural activists and the East Village in New York embraced runaways youths as social revolutionaries that are kindred.

Runaways by Staller adopts the experiences embodied in The Huckleberry Finn especially the ideologies of Beats, to come up with informal services that were extensively utilized by the runway teenagers including help lines and crash pads (Staller, 2006). In this view, many of the social programs that were structured drew their influence from counterculture as well as social institutions. Staller conclusively demonstrates how the congress through their legislative policies were meant to sanction running away grounded by the present judicial system that expresses a host of uneasiness and discomfort with the process of formulating policies for both civic and moral educations for the runaway youths (Staller, 2006).

Many social groups took charge led by desire to facilitate social works, to increase their participation in providing social services and to troubled youths especially those on streets. This provision, prompted the establishment of federal legislation to govern the runway youths, which not endorsed the made it possible for the American congress to provide for the alternative service community model.

Staller’s Runaways has provided a controversial debate on the current social issues that revolve around social value, ethics and obligation. Gambrill et al (2007) suggests that the book provides a leeway for critical thinking in areas of social ethics, obligations and value that arose in the 1960s and 1970s American society and continue to rise in the everyday practice. Accordingly, it is a scholarly work that stimulates appreciation and critical thinking as far as the complexities of ethical issues are concern. In light of this, it becomes evident on how social service providers are ready to serve runaway youths either at home or in a setting that is equivalent to a home.

From monitoring the social ethic value that any social problem like that of the runaway youths caused, Reamer (2008) maintains that the society through governmental and non governmental organizations can manage  rehabilitating or reaching out to the paroled youths and in extension reunite families. Home based services calls for a model that can address ethical dilemmas that may emerge in such an environment and creates positive outcomes amid the wholesome problem. It is plausible to argue that Staller aimed at illuminating the whole practice of social service, the guiding policies and practice in social works.

For instance, social workers today are faced with a myriad claims that are competing to concern the rights and needs of the youths while at the same time facing  newer dilemmas regarding  practice and policies (Hess and Mallon, 2005). The programs formulated within the precincts of runaway you were build on the foundation of the interests of runaway youths while at the same time, the practice of supporting their welfare became more precarious. In other words, as the programs sought to save youths at risk, they could not jeopardize the pedestals of ensuring that communities are protected from risky youths.

Social researchers maintain that Runways by Staller examine the political, theoretical and practical aspects of working with the youths today (Reamer, 2008). As a result, the book  grounds evidences within the sociology of teenage rebellion to ignite a practical reflection on the practices, policies and value that impacts on the social programs to help the youths.

For example, in the mid 1960s, the Diggers got involved in the cultural critique where they formulated policies that were to entirely create a counterculture that would sustain a like minded social activist society. Accordingly, the motivating factor was to promote social activists who are not challenged by social, economic, moral and cultural constraints of the mainstream society.  To achieve this rationale, the diggers provided free clinics, free crash pads and free food to help them cope with the effects of runaway and still prevent them from experiencing further runways.

Runaways is used by Staller to communicate an emanate message of love, peace and concrete services provided to the runaway youths. Gambrill et al (2007) cite a case to point where the media promoted the inarguably known Summer of Love in San Francisco where the Diggers played a leading role in calling upon the local community to participate in the provision of help as well as other services to care for the younger children. In response to this, the Community established a Huckleberry house, forming a nationwide movement that offered radical and alternative services aiming towards sheltering runaway youths. In addition, the shelters offered resembled the crash pads and other values of counterculture.

The services were categorized into radical and alternative group because for radical, they did not encompass the customary child welfare or juvenile systems of justice but rather offered help to teenagers under the instructions of the authority (Staller, 20060. In this case, some providers structured their services to mirror the voluntary framework which made some providers to refuse housing the minors who refused to allow parental contacts. In essence, this factor just extended and aggravated the situation and crisis for using services without the prior knowledge of the authority.

The alternative services and their agencies narrowed to the primary objectives of the social program for the youths in a way that Staller argues of the legitimatization of the social structures for the runway youths in 1974. As such, the congress enacted the Runaway Youth Act to form part of the juvenile System of just. From this position, it remains clear that Runaway by Staller exemplifies how legislatures embraced the ideals that are espoused by the alternative service provision. With regard to this, scholars argue that the legacies of this influence in the American society run up to date. For instance, runway shelters still exist in the present society and embody the values that initially originated from the counterculture movement (Staller, 2006).

However, there are a number of effects that this value poses to the society at large. The process of amending the Runway Youth Act has entirely led to the voluntary sector being forced to provide alternative services to the increasingly challenged runaway youths. With regard to this, Reamer (2008) makes it clear that troubled youths such as street based and homeless have continued to pose a dilemma to the social program in the sense that public service providers are exempted from responsibilities such as child protective services, mental health facilities among others.

The strength in the policies and social practices addressed in the Runaway leads the entire society to be concerned about whether to manipulate or exploit the local, private and voluntary social service agencies such that the family unit shall be structured in the whole quest for runaway services thus making the police and the parents to be so much organized in configuring the problem of runway youths as well as other social constructed problems (Staller, 2006).

In light of this, cases of parental abduction or worse still stranger abduction will be effectively addressed in that it will result into including the whole society in the policy debate. As such, runaway youths or prostituting youths will be nipped in the bud thus preventing the possible runway behavior.

Towards managing the whole policy and practice structure of runways problem, it emerges that the social service providers irrespective of whether they are local, voluntary and public can change their operational structures including measures to phase out the system of collective decision making.

Accordingly, Hess and Mallon (2005) underscores that the ability to address as well as handle social welfare requires the inclusion of professionals from the society and local communities in a bid to successfully enforce  youth assistance and advocacy. The House that was evolved  and the values enshrined in the services guide the future approaches to help social programs through grant writing campaigns, and acknowledging that any attempt to compete for  federal funding should  governed by the merit in the larger goal of non profit operation.

In addition, legal and police institution which were more comfortable to the extent of accepting the traditional approaches to offer services towards youths at risk, need a total structural overhaul in their service provision. Staller suggests that developing legitimacy in the community by adopting modern and contemporary approaches to expand its services through the wider traditional living programs. For instance, the homeless youths could be provided for shelter for a period they are still attending school; in a bid to help them develop independent living skills. Staller (2008) further explains that on top addition and expansion of the service provision marks the efficiency in the sail programs to address social constructed problems.

Today, the working class as well as the lower class youths exhibit a kind of anxiety that lead to a dispossession where the same youths respond to the challenges of social control. As Reamer (2009) puts it, these struggles embody a struggle of these youths together with their interdependence, clashes and their fight for social, economic, political and cultural capital in a bid to be empowered. Staller in Runaways adopts a vantage point for all those who struggle for self respect, social solidarity and modes of survival in the increasingly marginalized environments. To achieve this, she argues how the situation is humanized and contextualized in the seemingly senseless position of these youths.


From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that Runaways constructs a perspective that is distinctive and mirrored in the comprehensive angle about the population and society that is extensively unfamiliar to service providers, programs developers as well as policy makers. Runaways by Karen Staller embodies values of social constructions of the youths during 1960-1978 and as socially unconstructed problem, youth running away in the early yeas of 1960 reflected a simmering social condition that typified harmless adventures.

In 1960s and 1970s, runways among the youths became a national concern in America such that activist in the countercultural movement offered programs that supported the runaway youths. In this context of constructed social problems, the author, Karen Staller provides a detailed analysis of the policies and programs that that not only took place but also shaped the entire paradigm of runaway youth.


  1. Gambrill, E et al (2007). Controversial Issues in Social Work Ethics, values and Obligation. New York: Routledge
  2. Hess, P and Mallon, G. (2005). Child Welfare for the 21st Century: A Handbook of Practices, Policies and Programs. London: Rutledge
  3. Reamer, F (2008). Teens in Crisis: Service Industry of Social Welfare. Columbia: CUP
  4. Staller, K (2006). Runaways: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped Today’s Policies and Practices. Cambridge: CUP


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Social Constructed Runaway Problem: A Look into Runaways by Karen Staller. (2016, Dec 07). Retrieved from