County agency offering text-based help to teens

Alabaster-based Family Connection is seeking to text its way to youth runaway prevention throughout Shelby and Jefferson counties.

The agency began offering the Txt 4 Help program Oct. 15, as Family Connection geared up to participate in November’s National Runaway Prevention Month.

Through the program, children and teens can text the word “safe” and an address to 69866, and the national Safe Place organization will respond with the location of the closest Safe Place shelter.

“Safe Places are locations like fire departments, libraries and other places that have offered to be a shelter. They are places out there in the kids’ communities where they can go if they don’t want to be at home,” said Carol Williams, Family Connection’s Safe Place coordinator. “So far, most of the children have come to Family Connection directly, so the Safe Places haven’t been used that frequently.

“But even if they aren’t used all the time, it’s very important that they are out there if the youth need them,” Williams added.

The Safe Place program aims to cut down on youth runaways, and the Txt 4 Help program allows children and teens to more easily access local Safe Place shelters, Williams said. Between January and September 2009, Family Connection helped 34 children who were homeless or who had run away from home.

“We are always trying to keep up with the ways kids are communicating so we can get the information to them more effectively,” Williams said. “Right now, more and more kids are using cell phones to text, so this will be an easy way for them to get the information if they ever need it.”

Family Connection has been spreading the word about the Safe Place and Txt 4 Help programs recently by speaking and running announcements in schools across the county.

“The most important thing is that they are getting information about the program,” Williams said. “We just want them to know the Safe Places are out there if they ever need them.”