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Keywords:

  • familial abuse;
  • adolescent renaways;
  • coping ability;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

Abstract

Previous study of a sample of 149 adolescent runaways showed that youths who left home because of familial physical abuse were more likely than youths who left home for other reasons to report symptomatology consistent with the diagnostic criteria of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The literature suggests that stress reactions, such as PTSD, are not direct responses to stressors, such as familial abuse. Rather, these relationships are mediated by factors which influence a person's ability to cope with stressors. This paper reports the results of exploring two factors which influence coping ability: (1) perceptions of control over the stressor, and (2) the availability of intrafamilial social support. Using information from the same sample of 149 adolescent runaways, we compared youth who left home because of familial physical abuse to youth who did not on the basis of these two coping resources. Results show that victims of familial physical abuse are significantly more likely than are other runaways to believe that they could not have changed or controlled the events that led to their running. Further, the intrafamilial social support systems of these young victims are highly dysfunctional. Study findings support the contention that factors which decreased the coping ability of runaway victims of familial abuse heightened the probability of their developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.