Nurse interventions can help sexually exploited runaway girls restore healthy behaviours, according to a new study led by a University of British Columbia researcher.

“Runaways often become isolated from supportive family and school relationships, which are important for healthy development,” said UBC nursing professor Elizabeth Saewyc.

However, girls taking part in the Runaway Intervention Program at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., had significant reductions in emotional distress, substance use, suicide attempts, and risky sexual behaviours.

Through the intervention program, nurses worked beyond the clinic to support girls and their families with home and school visits.

“Remarkably, by six and 12 months into the program, the girls had improved so much that in most areas they were indistinguishable from girls in school who had never been abused,” said Saewyc.

Laurel Edinburgh, a researcher and nurse involved with the program, said the individualized approach to health care is key.

“Every runaway girl has a unique set of circumstances, issues and needs and therefore require individualized intervention in order to restore a supportive environment that would help them heal,” Edinburgh said. The study was published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.