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

Fact Sheet: National Communications System: The National Runaway Switchboard


The National Runaway Switchboard (NRS) is a national communications system that assists youth who have run away, or are considering running away, and their families. With its database of more than 16,000 resources, NRS links youth and families across the country to shelters, counseling, medical assistance, and other vital services. Striving to be one-stop resource for youth in crisis, NRS offers a range of services.

The NRS hotline operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, handling more than 100,000 calls annually. More than half of youth crisis callers are on the street. They have run away or been thrown out of the house—and they don’t know what to do. NRS helps in the following ways:

  • Crisis Intervention: Front line staff and volunteers complete 40 hours of in-depth training, through which they develop active listening skills and learn to use a solution-based crisis intervention model.
  • Information and Referrals: NRS locates local resources and makes appropriate referrals to meet each caller’s needs.
  • Three-Way Conference Calls: NRS initiates calls between youth and their parents or guardians, staying on the line to mediate the discussion. NRS also initiates calls between youth and social service protection agencies, and between adults and organizations that can help resolve their problems.
  • Message Relay: When youth and their parents or guardians are not yet ready for one-on-one interactions, they may take the first step toward reconnecting with each other by leaving messages with NRS.
  • Advocacy: The NRS front line team advocates for youth and ensures they get support and guidance from authorities, school administrators, social service agencies, and medical and legal professionals.

Home Free
NRS' Home Free program reached the 10,000-rider mark in August 2004. Offered in partnership with Greyhound Lines, Inc., the program reunites families by giving youth a free ride home. Home Free also takes some older youth to transitional living facilities.

Prevention Resources
NRS also works to prevent youth from running away. By helping youth and adults resolve problems constructively, staff and volunteers diffuse escalating tensions, promote dialogue, and reduce youths’ desire to run away.

Education and Outreach
From a comprehensive Runaway Prevention Curriculum to informative bookmarks, NRS provides a variety of free educational and promotional materials to schools, communities, and direct service providers. Materials are available by mail or at
The NRS Web site promotes the organization’s services, collaborations, and partnerships. It also features demographic information on callers, nationally and by State, and links to other Web resources. Young people can post their questions and concerns on the online bulletin board, while educators and service providers can visit the site to find statistics and educational and promotional materials.


The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) established NRS (formerly Metro-Help, founded in 1971) through a demonstration grant in 1974. Within a year of implementation, NRS received more than 1,000 calls a month, a level of demand that proved the need for such a service.

Subsequently, Congress authorized the establishment of a “national communications system to assist runaway and homeless youth in making contact with their families and service providers” through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, as amended. Funding for the system was first authorized in fiscal year 1980. (The system currently is authorized through Part C, Section 331, of the “Runaway, Homeless, and Missing Children Protection Act,” P.L. 108-96.)

Since that time, NRS has expanded its services and capabilities through outreach and collaboration, ensuring that all youth can get help when they need it. For example, NRS has worked with National Safe Place to have local Safe Place coordinators across the country inform youth about resources that will keep them safe. The coordinators have distributed more than 3 million English and Spanish wallet cards with NRS contact information.

In 1998, NRS initiated Agency Affiliation Agreements to strengthen the network of services available to runaway and homeless youth and other young people in difficult situations. Participating agencies agree to provide services to youth and families who are referred to them by NRS and to communicate regularly with NRS.

For More Information

The National Runaway Switchboard
3080 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
Hotline: 1-800-RUNAWAY or (800) 621 4000
Hotline TDD: (800) 621 0394
Administrative Telephone: (773) 880-9860
Fax: (773) 929 5150