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Family and Youth Services Bureau skip to primary page contentAssociate Commissioner Karen Morison

Fact Sheet: Basic Center Program


In the early 1970s, when national attention focused on runaway and homeless youth, there was widespread concern about youth who were away from home and in at-risk situations, often through no fault of their own. While efforts to help these young people were beginning at the local level, few, if any, federal resources existed to provide runaway and homeless youth with shelter or to help reunite them with their families.

Local youth service professionals had begun building a system of care for youth who had run away from home, and they recommended changes in the way these young people were being handled by existing social service systems. At the same time, there was recognition at the Federal level that youth committing “status offenses” (behaviors considered offenses only if carried out by a minor, such as truancy or running away) needed supervision, care, and guidance rather than punishment.

Congress held hearings on how best to help runaway and homeless youth and began a process that resulted in congressional passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974 (Public Law 93–415). The JJDPA created a system of financial support for States that was linked to several mandates designed to improve community treatment of young people in at-risk circumstances. To receive Federal JJDPA funding, for example, States had to agree to deinstitutionalize status offenders, including runaway youth.

To support deinstitutionalization efforts, Congress authorized the Basic Center Program through the JJDPA’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA). The Basic Center Program would provide a system of care for young runaways outside the traditional child protective services, law enforcement, or juvenile justice agencies. Congress assigned administration of the Basic Center Program to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Within HHS, the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) began funding local communities to operate Basic Centers in 1974.

Today, FYSB continues to fund the Basic Center Program through the Runaway, Homeless, and Missing Children Protection Act of 2003, as amended by P.L. 108-96, which reauthorizes the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and provides funding for the organizations and shelters that serve and protect runaway, homeless, missing, and sexually exploited children. In FY 2007, a total of $43.3 million was available for the program, which allowed FYSB to fund 336 Basic Centers.


The mission of the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) is to provide national leadership on youth and family issues. The Bureau promotes positive outcomes for children, youth, and families by supporting a wide range of comprehensive services and collaborations at the local, Tribal, State, and national levels. The goals of FYSB programs are to provide positive alternatives for youth, ensure their safety, and maximize their potential to take advantage of available opportunities.

Through the Basic Center Program, FYSB works to establish or strengthen community-based programs that address the immediate needs of runaway and homeless youth and their families. The central purpose of these programs is to provide youth with emergency shelter, food, clothing, counseling, and referrals for health care. Most Basic Centers can provide 15 days of shelter for up to 20 youth. There are exceptions for those jurisdictions that have different standards for licensing. The Basic Centers seek to reunite young people with their families, whenever possible, or to locate appropriate alternative placements.

Services Provided

While each Basic Center is slightly different, all Basic Centers are required to offer the following types of assistance to young people and their families:

  • Food, clothing, medical care, or other services that youth need (offered either directly or by referral)
  • Individual, group, and family counseling
  • Recreation programs
  • Outreach targeting both youth who may need assistance and other public or private agencies that work with youth and families
  • Aftercare services for youth after they leave the shelter

FYSB's Grant Award Process

FYSB solicits applications annually for the Basic Center Program through funding announcements on the Web site at Applications are competitively reviewed by peer panels, and successful applicants receive 3-year grants. Basic Center Program funds are allocated to the States using a formula based on the State’s population of youth under age 18, according to the latest census data.

For More Information

For further information about FYSB’s Basic Center Program, contact the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth, P.O. Box 13505, Silver Spring, MD 20911-3505; (301) 608-8098; fax: (301) 608-8721; e-mail:; Web site: