Gap Analysis of Research Literature on Issues Related to Street-Involved Youth
Ayerst, Sandra L. (1999). "Depression and stress in street youth." Adolescence 34(135): 567-575.
Ayerst's study explores stress and depression levels among 27 Canadian street youth and 27 "nonrunaway peers" (p. 567) over the age of 12, using a questionnaire to investigate not only depression level, family history, and stress factors, but also coping strategies. Street youth are found to experience deeper levels of depression than youth who live at home and attend school. In administering a standard questionnaire to measure depression, researchers found that factors such as sleep disturbance could not be used as a symptom of depression because, since
"…it is rare to find a street youth who is able to sleep safely…, the scale may be tapping lifestyle rather than depression level." Of particular interest is Ayerst's discussion of coping strategies such as use of drugs and alcohol and engaging in acts of self harm. She observes that although these strategies are negative in nature, they may not be maladaptive when street culture is taken into account. Thus,
"street youth commonly take amphetamines…to stay awake throughout the night so that they are not 'jumped' (attacked or robbed) while sleeping [and] inhalants may be used to provide a feeling of warmth during cold weather." She also points out that self-harm, in the form of cutting, burning and other self-inflicted violence
"…may also be seen as a negative but adaptive coping strategy for street youth…from tension-filled, hostile environments in which other outlets for anger or frustration are lacking."
Baron, Stephen W. (1999). "Street youths and substance use: the role of background, street lifestyle, and economic factors." Youth and Society 31(1):3-26.
This research examines the relationship between drug and alcohol use and a variety of street life experiences. It focuses on the role of homelessness, peers on the street, criminal behavior, poverty and unemployment in influencing drug and alcohol use. The data were collected in Edmonton through the use of a structured interview schedule administered to a sample of 200 male youths
"…with an average age of almost 19 years" (p. 11). Youths who participated were given a $10 food coupon. To determine the effects of street lifestyle on drug and alcohol use, respondents were asked about duration of homelessness, drug and alcohol use by peers,
"…and their own involvement in property, violent, and drug crimes" (p. 12). Multivariate analysis of data suggests that while the backgrounds of homeless youths tend to promote drug and alcohol use, experiences on the street such as criminal activities, cultural supports, and the presence of drug-using peers are likely to exacerbate these risk-behaviors. Moreover, the author (p. 18) observes that unstable labor market histories and prolonged unemployment can either leave street-involved youth
"…alienated from conventional society or frustrated with their failure, both of which serve to increase the risk of drug and alcohol use." In addition, participation in crime increases the use of drugs and alcohol among street-involved youth
"crime finances use; use encourages more use; more use encourages more crime."
Baron, Stephen W. and Timothy F. Hartnagel (1998). "Street youth and criminal violence." Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 35(2):166-192.
Critical of studies that focus solely on antecedent background factors in determining street youth violence or that adopt "unicausal" explanations for violence among street youth, Baron and Hartnagel employ a variety of criminological perspectives to examine the intersection of street subculture, poverty, and victimization in promoting and shaping the involvement of street youth in criminal violence. Their study draws upon data collected over a six-month period in Edmonton and employs interviews and self-reports with 200 homeless male street youths whose average age was just under 19 years. They distinguish between
"…prior family and recent street experiences of violent victimization as possible causal variables" (p. 168) in four different forms of criminal violence – robbery, aggravated assault, common assault, and group fights. Results reveal that
"…aspects of the street subcultural lifestyle, economic deprivation, and victimization" (p. 184) coupled with family histories of serious abuse and victimization work together to explain street youth violence. The authors find that while low income is
"…the only consistent significant predictor across the four types of violent crime" (p. 184), different combinations of street subculture, economic deprivation, and victimization are associated with the different types of violent behavior. For example, robbery is best predicted by poverty, length of time on the street, perception of a lack of legitimate opportunities, and victimization both at home and on the street. On the other hand,
"predictive accuracy was weakest for group fights" (p. 184) which seem to be conditioned by other unexplored factors such as
"…territoriality, protection, and group identity" (p. 185).
Bass, Deborah (1992). Helping Vulnerable Youths: Runaway and Homeless Adolescents in the United States. Washington, DC: NASW Press.
Bass examines the needs of runaway and homeless youth for shelter, independent living skills, and drug abuse and prevention education and evaluates U.S. federal government programs available to assist them with these needs, in order
"…to develop practice-relevant information and to identify innovative practices" (p. xi). Of interest is her assessment of short-term shelter services which are
"…extremely effective for youths who have been away from home for a short time and who seek help….but may not be as effective for youths who have long-term problems" (16). The author (p. 27) itemizes adequacy of referral sources, staff training, the availability of social services, and "after-care services" as essential factors in the effectiveness of programs designed to meet the needs of street youth. The book provides a series of recommendations for program activities to meet youth needs and presents a model for serving runaway and homeless youths based on
"…a composite of best practices" (p. 47). These include identification of education, health and social service systems and establishment of service linkages, and development and implementation of outreach activities, public awareness campaigns, and empowerment of youth and families. In addition, appendices provide samples of data collection instruments used in a National Association of Social Workers survey of street youth. These instruments include questions relating to the experiences of cultural minorities, immigrant, and gay and lesbian youth.
Booth, Robert E., Yiming Zhang and Carol F. Kwiatkowski (1999). "The challenge of changing drug and sex risk behaviors of runaway and homeless adolescents." Child Abuse and Neglect 23(12):1295-1306.
The objective of this research was to expand understanding of drug and sex risk behaviors of street-involved adolescents and to assess the effect of youths' knowledge about HIV and AIDS, their perceptions and concerns about the likelihood of infection, and the effectiveness of a peer intervention program in changing risk behaviors. Standardized, structured interviews were conducted with a sample of 244 street-involved youth to assess their risk behaviors and to determine the extent of their knowledge about HIV/AIDS. An intervention model was designed, with a cohort of HIV prevention educators trained to assist their peers on the street. This assistance involved four major topics:
- facts about HIV/AIDS transmission and ways to reduce risks;
- facts about sex risk behaviors and how to negotiate safer sex;
- drug-related risks and role playing to practice refusal skills when drugs are offered; and
- preparation of participants to assume the peer helper role .
Three major findings emerged from the study:
- there was no relationship between greater understanding of AIDS and practice of lower risk behaviors;
- perceived likelihood of infection did not lower risk behavior; and
- using peer educators in the intervention model was not effective in changing the risk behaviors.
Brannigan, Augustine and Tullio Caputo (1993). Studying Runaways and Street Youth in Canada: Conceptual and Research Design Issues. Ottawa: Solicitor General Canada.
This report concentrates on five issues:
- the size of the runaway and street youth population in various locations in Canada;
- demographic characteristics of runaways and street youth;
- background antecedents contributing to becoming street-involved;
- the consequences of street involvement and patterns of leaving the streets; and
- the nature of services – educational, health, criminal justice and social services – available to street youth and identification of gaps or overlaps in service delivery.
Problems of conceptualizing street youth are addressed; the authors (pp. 3-5) remark that attempts to categorize and define street-involved youth are confounded by issues of how the youth came to be on the street, age range and problems of comparing the activities of youth under 12 with those over 20 years of age, behavioral characteristics on the street (drugs, alcohol, high-risk sexual behavior, sources of income), criminal involvement and whether the individual street youth is victim or victimizer (pp. 3-5). The discussion generates a
"schematic overview" (Fig. 1, p. 53) that illustrates, in diagrammatic form, the relationship among types of street youth, antecedents, consequences and institutional responses and services. The authors (p. 54) point out that
"this schematic overview can do little more than highlight the complexity of the problem…of runaways and street youth…" Eleven Canadian studies are then surveyed, with reference to definitions, research design, and data collection strategies. Following their survey of case studies, the authors turn to a discussion of conceptualizing the problem of street-involved youth. They (p. 96) maintain that
"… interest in the area of runaways and street youth is largely reactive," driven by the needs of institutions to collect information on characteristics of street-involved youth in order to provide necessary services to them and to establish some measure of control over them. They make a number of recommendations related to conceptual issues, including, first, that
"…a systematic count be made of the size [and age range] of the population of youth on the street" (p. 100). To this end, they develop
"…a methodological strategy" (p. 109) for estimating population size that takes into account the activities and behavior patterns of street youth that make them so difficult to count, such as their sleeping locations and nocturnal activities. A second recommendation is that the extent and type of participation in street culture should be viewed as an important variable in studying street youth, in order
"…to encompass a broad range of activities and levels of participation" (p. 102). To meet this second recommendation, Brannigan and Caputo (pp. 102-107) devise a two-dimensional model – length of time on the street and degree of involvement in street life – that will aid in differentiating among
"…the diverse elements of the street youth population" (p. 102) and in encompassing a broad range of activities and levels of participation in street culture. The authors also report on the results of a pilot study conducted in Calgary in the winter of 1992. The study examined four major factors: family background antecedents, personal characteristics such as age, gender and educational level, psychological, health, and economic consequences of being on the street, and use of social services. Although data were collected on
"hazards of running" (p. 129), these deal largely with psychological factors such as depression, suicidal tendencies, and lack of self-esteem , and with police detention, involvement with drugs, and problems with employment rather than with violence and victimization.
Caputo, Tullio, R. Weiler and Katherine Kelly (1994). Phase II of the Runaways and Street Youth Project: The Ottawa Case Study. Final Report No. 1994-11. Ottawa: Solicitor General Canada.
As a result of Brannigan and Caputo's (1993) recommendations stemming from their discussion of research design strategies and review of the literature on street youth, the authors conducted an in-depth analysis of Ottawa's response to runaways and street youth. In addition, the research team collaborated with an Ottawa community project on Youth and Violence, and a background document (pp. 102-112) for participants attending a conference on Violence and Youth is appended to their report. The report itself utilizes Brannigan and Caputo's (1993:103, Fig. 2) second schematic model to characterize the various components of the runaway and street population, so that the full range of behaviors typical of street youth can be identified and met with appropriate community responses. The authors discuss the results of interviews with both front-line and supervisory staff in youth service agencies, interviews with youth living on the street or in marginal situations, as well as youth not involved with street life. Interviews explored characteristics of the street youth population, antecedent family situations, involvement of street youth in high-risk or illegal activities, and street youths'
"…knowledge, use assessment of services available to them" (p. 3). Their assessment reveals, for example, that the vast majority of street youth were aware of available youth services and the agencies that provided them, that most regarded health care services highly, but that, in contrast, more than half of the street youth gave the police negative ratings.
Caputo, Tullio, R. Weiler and Katherine Kelly (1994). Phase II of the Runaways and Street Youth Project: The Saskatoon Case Study. Final Report No. 1994-12. Ottawa: Solicitor General Canada.
Paralleling the Ottawa study by the same authors (see above, p. 4) and part of Phase II of the Runaways and Street Youth Project, this volume is an in-depth case study of Saskatoon's response to runaways and street youth . Noting that more than three-quarters of these youth are aboriginal (p. 30), the authors apply Brannigan and Caputo's (1993:103, Fig. 2) second schematic model to their analysis. Thus, the study uses the two major dimensions of the schematic model to characterize four groups of youth:
"'conventional youth'… [who live at home and] are only marginally involved in the street scene;…'victimized youth'… [who are] not, as yet, very involved in street life… [but whose] precarious living situations make them extremely vulnerable to its dangers;…'delinquent youth'… [who] are not on the street to any extent, but …do participate heavily in the illegal and dangerous activities characteristic of street culture; [and]…'entrenched youth' who are both homeless and heavily involved in street life" (p. 13).
The analysis provides overviews and evaluations of the role of social services, education, health care, criminal justice and community services for street youth. Such problematic areas as the lack of supportive access to these services, as well as inadequate training for staff, unrealistic expectations of schools and other educational services, middle class bias in the criminal justice system, and the presence of only a few culturally sensitive program responses for aboriginal street youth are investigated. The need for greater involvement of the aboriginal community and street youth in the design, implementation, and evaluation of runaway and street youth services is discussed. Moreover, the authors (p. 21) find that
"intervention strategies and treatment orders do not take into account the reality faced by aboriginal street youth." While considerable attention is paid to the views of street-involved youth, especially those who are aboriginal, no mention is made of the involvement of gay or lesbian youth or of those with disabilities in street culture. In general, the presentation of youth views is not broken down by gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The authors touch very briefly on such issues as the lack of culturally sensitive mental health services, and there is reference to the existence of birth control programs, but there is no discussion of pregnancy among runaways and street youth. Given these omissions, the study is a relatively thorough assessment of the street-involved youth service system.
Chand, Manjit, Lisa B. Thompson and Coralys Cuthbert (1997). You Have Heard This Before: Street-Involved Youth and the Service Gaps. Vancouver: Interministerial Street Children's Committee, City of Vancouver Social Planning Department.
The purpose of this project is aimed at
"…identifying some of the service gaps for street-involved youth in Vancouver" (p. 4). Gaps in service to street-involved youth include insufficient facilities for short- and long-term housing options and for long-term alcohol and drug treatment for youth, as well as a lack of round-the-clock access to services, and both poor coordination of services and inadequate integration of case management among service-providers. Special attention is given to the need for shelters with laundry and shower facilities that may influence youth success in finding employment and to a variety of gaps in accessible health care. Lastly, the report speaks about
"promises to be kept concerning the reformation of laws and policies that could protect street youth" (p. 4). Recommendations are made to address these shortcomings, but there is little reference to the implications of the recommendations for issues of gender, ethnicity, disabilities or sexual orientation, nor is there any discussion of victimization.
Fitzgerald, Michael D. (1995). "Homeless youths and the child welfare system: implications for policy and service." Child Welfare 74(3):717-730.
According to the author (p. 717), child welfare services in Canada are inadequate for youths between the ages of 16 and 19, and community-based organizations do not have the necessary resources to provide assistance to this cohort. This article investigates current child welfare policy and practice in Canada as it applies to homeless youths. In addition, a long-term residential program for homeless youths is profiled, and implications and recommendations for child welfare are discussed. Fitzgerald comments that while it is generally recognized that the lives of street-involved youth reflect the on-going impact of
"unsupporting, damaging backgrounds" (p. 718), there is little in the Canadian child welfare system to deal with the emotional, social, legal and economic consequences of these backgrounds. Obstacles to providing effective care and protection for homeless adolescents include insufficient training for youth care workers, the restriction of most child welfare legislation to youth 16 years of age and under, and poorly integrated medical, housing and financial sources. Fitzgerald then examines Phoenix House, a long-term residential program for homeless youths in Halifax. He describes the structure of this non-profit community service, noting that it
"…provides its male and female residents (age 16 to 24 years) with a safe, stable living environment and a range of educational, skill-building, and leisure programs" (p. 725). The aim of the program is to promote increased responsibility and independence among individual residents using staff-guided social- and life-skills training, emotional guidance, computer-based education, preparation for employment, addiction treatment and intervention, and recreational and leisure activities. The author remarks that although Phoenix House attempts to respond positively to issues of concern to street-involved youth, lack of government and public funding and concomitant problems with providing quality, affordable services delivered by adequately compensated, skillful and dedicated staff hamper the operation of the program. Fitzgerald proposes a number of improvements including :
- development of a national policy on child welfare that leads to consistent legislation and service;
- increased public education and training for child welfare professionals;
- development of creative programs based on the needs of children and their families;
- policies that extend equal protection to adolescents and that recognize their special needs; and
- street-level and outreach services.
Greene, Jody M. and Christopher L. Ringwalt (1998). "Pregnancy among three national samples of runaway and homeless youth." Journal of Adolescent Health 23(6): 370-377.
The purpose of this article is to compare estimates of the incidence of pregnancy among three youth cohorts between the ages of 14 and 17 years who were living on the street, in funded shelters, or at home. Although earlier studies of street youth document pregnancy rates of between 25% and 60% in different American cities, Greene and Ringwalt's study is the first to examine three nationally representative surveys of the three youth cohorts for evidence of prevalence of lifetime pregnancy rates. The intent of the authors is to provide more reliable empirical information that can be used by program planners to assess the extent of need for family planning and pre-natal care services and to develop funding proposals for such services. Multistage sampling techniques were used in the shelter survey to ensure a nationally representative sample of 169 female youth residing in both federally funded and non-federally funded shelters and in both large and small shelters. A total of 85 female street youth were surveyed with a
"purposive sampling strategy" (p. 372) that involved selection of sites within ten American cities where high concentrations of street youth were expected. Staff of local street outreach programs and police departments aided in the identification of locations and times for contacting large numbers of street youth. Virtually identical questionnaires were used in both shelter and street surveys, and respondents were given food or food coupons. A pre-existing survey that monitors health risk behaviors among youth was used to collect data on 1988 female youth living in households. All three surveys included comparable questions on lifetime pregnancy. Age and race/ethnicity (white, black, and other) were measured in each survey. Data from all three surveys were standardized and weighted to take into account variations in demographic characteristics, and Chi-square tests were used to assess statistical significance of the differences among standardized lifetime pregnancy rates for the three groups. Results indicate that
"…youths living on the street had the highest lifetime rates of pregnancy (48%), followed by youth residing in shelters (33%)" (p. 370), while youth living in stable households, with and without recent homeless experiences, had lifetime pregnancy rates of under 10 per cent. Differences in rates between street and shelter youth were not statistically significant when demographic variables were taken into account. The authors postulate that homeless youth, whether in shelters or on the street, are at very high risk for pregnancy because of a variety of factors:
- they may have been sexually abused at home and become pregnant as a result;
- they engage in high-risk sexual activities such as having multiple sexual partners;
- as a result of poverty, they are compelled to engaging in "survival" sex, trading sex for their basic subsistence needs;
- as a result of poverty, they cannot afford effective contraceptives such as the pill, IUDs, diaphragms or condoms;
- they are vulnerable to sexual assault on the street or in shelters; and
- they have
"…limited access to medical and family planning services"(p. 370).
Several problematic factors that may skew the findings are identified: pregnancies may be underreported if females did not know they were pregnant or they were reluctant to admit to pregnancy; pregnancies may be overreported if young females who were undernourished, using drugs, or suffering stress misinterpreted missed menstrual periods. The authors note in conclusion that there are many policy implications for their findings, including a need for pregnancy prevention and safe sex programs for street-involved youth, condom distribution, prenatal services close to centres where homeless youth congregate, infant care education projects, and independent living and job training programs for female street youth with infants.
Hoyt, Dan R., Kimberly Ryan, and Ana Mari Cauce (1999). "Personal victimization in a high-risk environment: homeless and runaway adolescents." Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 36(4):371-392.
Acknowledging flaws in previous studies using a criminal opportunity theoretical perspective, Hoyt et al. attempt a more rigorous examination that concentrates on patterns of personal victimization within the specific context of homeless and street-involved youth. The authors (p. 372) also acknowledge that the
"single dominant finding …from the literature on criminal opportunity theories … is that location matters." They proceed to extend these theories in several ways:
- consideration of what types of exposure are most predictive of personal victimization;
- refinement of visibility and accessibility criteria;
- elaboration of measures of target attractiveness and guardianship and their relationship to victimization.
Two issues are given special attention:
"involvement in deviant activities …[and] time-lagged prior victimization" (p. 373). Data were collected through a longitudinal study of Seattle adolescents between 13 and 21 years who were not living in stable situations. Hoyt et al. note that homeless and street-involved youth
"…have fewer resources available to respond to victimization experiences" (p. 377), while
"the very nature of the homeless experience fosters involvement in deviant subsistence strategies" (376). The authors hypothesize that a variety of factors linked to exposure, guardianship, and victim attractiveness will produce important variation in victimization. Four exposure factors :
- actual amount of time living on the street without shelter;
- level of substance abuse;
- degree of involvement with gang activities; and
- prior personal victimization – show a strong positive association with increased risk of victimization for both males and females.
Of particular interest,
"the risks for current victimization were approximately two-and-one-half times greater if the youth had been a prior victim of a personal assault" (p. 387). One factor, degree of involvement in deviant activities, was not significantly associated with risk of personal victimization. Moreover, no significant relationship was discovered between amount of time spent in stable residence and reduced risk of personal victimization for either males or females, but assignment to an intensive case management significantly reduces victimization risks for females. Two measures of personal attractiveness –internalized, depressive symptoms and a disheveled, unclean appearance are weakly associated with increased risk of personal victimization for both males and females. The authors (p. 388) conclude that not only is exposure strongly related to victimization, but also
"victimization of street youths is not simply a matter of being homeless and in an unsafe environment; it is also dependent on what they are doing in this context." They maintain that their research and similar projects in other American cities provide an important test of the value of criminal opportunity models of victimization.
Kurtz, P. David, Elizabeth W. Lindsey, Sara Jarvis et al. (2000). "How runaway and homeless youth navigate troubled waters: the role of formal and informal helpers." Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal 17(5):381-402.
This goal of this study, a part of a larger research project (see also Lindsey et al., 2000, below), is to identify formal and informal external sources of help that enable runaway and homeless adolescents who have left home to escape conflicted or dangerous family situations develop skills and strategies for resolving difficulties, dealing with the dangers of street life, and achieving a modicum of
"self-defined success in young adulthood" (p. 381). The authors remark that adolescents in general are often reluctant to seek assistance from formal agencies and that it is essential to program planning and to professional workers to understand what types of helping are perceived by street youth as useful, trustworthy and appropriate to them. The research team used qualitative methodologies, including focus groups with peer educators and social service providers, and semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with a total of 12 youth between the ages of 18 and 25 who were no longer living on the street. Respondents identified three types of helpers – family, friends and professionals – and five types of help they perceived as important in facilitating their acceptance of help –
"…caring, trustworthiness, setting boundaries and holding youth accountable, concrete assistance, and counseling" (p. 387). Youth identified two essential conditions that had to be present for help to be sought and used: the young people had to perceive the helper as trustworthy and they had to be ready to accept help. The authors discuss significant findings of the study, noting that participants valued supportive, multiplex relationships with patient, nurturing helpers, whether family, friends, or professionals, far more than they did specific treatment programs and services. Thus, they state that programs for homeless youth need to be flexible and person-centred, allowing autonomy in decision-making and avoiding labelling or pathologizing youth.
Lindsey, Elizabeth W., P. David Kurtz, Sara Jarvis et al. (2000). "How runaway and homeless youth navigate troubled waters: personal strengths and resources." Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal 17(2):115-140.
Lindsey et al. point out that although there is considerable information about
"…why runaway and homeless youth leave home, the hazards they face, and the lifestyles they lead" (p. 116), very little research has examined
"…how some of these youth are able to resolve the challenges and problems they face to make successful transitions into adulthood" (p. 116). Here, they discuss a qualitative study, one segment of a larger research project (see also Kurtz et al. 2000, above), that investigates the
"…personal strengths and resources" (p. 115) employed by youth to make these successful transitions. These strengths and resources are described as
"…learning new behaviors, personal attributes, and spirituality." Data were collected using a
"phenomenological approach to identify…(1) the nature of decisive turning points in the lives of these young people; (2) the personal and contextual factors that enabled them to successfully resolve difficulties and achieve some level of self-defined success in young adulthood; and (3) how they define success for themselves" (p. 117). Four members of the research team used ideas obtained from focus groups with 30 peer educators from youth shelters and interviews with 22 youth shelter service providers to develop a semi-structured interview format for data collection. Twelve participants between the ages of 18 and 25 were interviewed, using a conversational style to elicit demographic information, accounts of difficult times experienced and strategies used to deal with those times, turning points in their lives, current situation, definition of success, and future hopes and plans. Transcripts of initial interviews were analyzed using the
"constant comparative approach" (p. 119) which uses preliminary finding to shape future interviews. A process of coding was developed that organized into larger conceptual categories the
"…well over 30 factors that youth identified" (p. 119) as significant markers in their ability to moved from homelessness and alienation to a self-defined sense of success. The article provides profiles of the 12 participants before discussing findings related to three categories of personal strengths and resources. The first major category,
"Learning New Attitudes and Behaviors" (p. 124), encompasses both what was learned and the nature of the learning process and identifies as most significant what youth learned about themselves and what they learned about being in relationships with others. Included in this first category are ideas gleaned from
"Learning About Themselves" (p. 124) including building self-confidence, developing self-love, learning about self-care, and goal-setting and learning from experience (p. 131), both from their own mistakes and experiences and from those of others. In addition, learning how to be more considerate, responsible, and careful in relationships with others and taking responsibility for one's own actions were significant elements of this first category. The second major category, "
Personal Attributes" (p. 133) was seen by the participants as including attributes such as determination, independence, responsibility and maturity that were considered as internal qualities rather than learned behaviors. The third category, spirituality, was identified by over half of the 12 youths and was expressed as
"…faith in God or a higher power…[,] direct divine intervention in their lives…[or] active engagement with their higher power through prayer" (p. 134). According to the authors, implications of this study include shifting from a traditional perspective of street youth as problematic and dysfunctional individuals to one of viewing them as resourceful individuals attempting to meet and cope with the challenges of life on the street. Lindsey et al. argue that programs such as "Scared Straight" which stress negative consequences of non-traditional behaviors may be little value to youth who need
"…to see a real connection between potential consequences and their own lives" (p. 137). The authors stress the importance of early intervention programs that do not label adolescents in trouble as
"'troublemakers' or even worse" (p. 138) and of ways that social workers can assist youth by focusing on what can be learned from a poor decision or ineffective problem-solving, by facilitating enhancement of self-defined positive attributes, and by designing programs that include youth learning bout themselves and their relationships with others. They caution, finally, that findings based on qualitative research with small samples must be carefully assessed before being applied to other and larger populations.
McCarthy, Bill (1995). On the Streets: Youth in Vancouver. Victoria: Ministry of Social Services, Province of British Columbia.
This report consists of a
"…review [of] available data and an overview of the situation of 'street kids' in Vancouver" (1). McCarthy examines such parameters of their existence as family background, living situations, school experiences, employment history and involvement in crime. This last variable is the focus of the document. He (1) defines street-involved youth as
"…people, age 14 to 24 years, who do not have regular access to permanent shelter…[and thus] are not easily included in conventional social surveys. Typically they migrate between living on the streets and finding temporary accommodation in hostels, group homes, hotels, with friends or relatives, or in their own apartments" (1). The author (p. 2) provides a statistical analysis accompanied by quotations from interviews
"…to give the abstract notion of 'street life' …immediacy", but these quotations do not yield insight into such factors as gender, ethnic background, disabilities, or sexual orientation. McCarthy (p. 47) notes that compared with youth who remain at home and in school, street youth appear to have far more problematic family backgrounds, school experiences, and encounters with law enforcement. He (p. 47) also comments that the frequently unsuccessful search for food, shelter and employment not only occupies much of the time of street youth but also leaves them vulnerable to violence and to being victims or perpetrators of crime. He (p. 47) concludes that
"…policies that reduce the amount of time homeless youth spend on the street will greatly affect …[their] involvement in street crime" and that access to safe shelters
"…should decrease street youth's involvement in high risk activities."
McCarthy, Bill and John Hagan (1992). "Mean streets: the theoretical significance of situational delinquency among homeless youth." American Journal of Sociology 98(3):597-627.
The authors compare youth on the street and in schools and control for factors of family background in order to identify adverse situational conditions that contribute to delinquency. These conditions are (1) hunger, which causes theft of food, (2) hunger and inadequate shelter, which lead to
"serious theft…[and (3)] problems of unemployment and shelter" (p. 597) which lead to prostitution. Acknowledging traditional sociological theories of crime causation based upon background life experiences, McCarthy and Hagan turn their attention to
"foreground causes" (p. 623), that is to
"…the adverse circumstances of homeless street youths" (p. 597). They examine the role of these circumstances in exacerbating both strain and weak social control and thereby pushing youths to delinquency. The study surveyed of Canadian street youth, 19 years of age and under, in Toronto, using a two-part research strategy: (1) a self-reporting instrument
"…for which they received $10 in restaurant coupons" (p. 603) and (2) a parallel instrument for a sample of adolescents living at home and attending school. Three dependent variables – stealing food, serious theft, and prostitution – were selected for analysis, the latter two
"…because they are likely to reveal gender-specific patterns, with situational concerns and difficulties more likely to cause male involvement in theft and female participation in prostitution" (p. 605). These measures are used to explore situational difficulties on the street – (1) unemployment since leaving home, (2) frequency of hunger and food scarcity, and (3) shelter. Meshing these indicators with information on strain and control at home, the authors present statistical models to consider the extent to which background and situational measures of street difficulties
"…have direct effects on the three dependent variables." The authors (p. 613) find that,
"…compared with adolescents still at home, street youths are disproportionately drawn from families characterized by aversive strain and an absence of control" and that
"…the strongest and most consistent relationships involve two measures of situational problems and two street control variables: hunger and shelter, and length of time on the street and arrests of street friends. In contrast, our third situational measure, unemployment, is significantly associated with only one indicator of street crime, prostitution" (p. 614). They (p. 614) also note
"…evidence of gender specialization in street crime;….as expected, males are more likely to steal, while females are more likely to work in the sex trade." McCarthy and Hagan (p. 625) conclude that
"…many of the most serious problems of the street derive from the conditions of street life itself, including the problems of sustenance and security that street life produces," and that there are policy implications for bringing about changes to street situations.
Moon, Martha W., William McFarland, Timothy Kellogg et al. (2000). "HIV risk behavior of runaway youth in San Francisco: age of onset and relation to sexual orientation." Youth and Society 32(2):184-201.
Among the large numbers of young people who are homeless and living on the streets or in shelters in the United States, up to 35% engage in drug use behavior that places them at high risk for HIV infection. High risk sexual behavior characterizes upwards of 27%, many of whom participate in
"…'survival sex,' selling sex to meet subsistence needs" (p. 185). In San Francisco, where this study was undertaken, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are at particularly high risk for HIV infection, but the authors note that very few studies distinguish sexual orientation among street-involved youth. Moon et al. make this distinction in order to better understand differences in sexual and drug use behavior. Information collected from heterosexual and from gay/lesbian/bisexual youth is compared. Participants were recruited when seeking medical services at two health clinics and were included if they were between the ages of 12 and 21 and were willing and able to consent to both an interview and a blood test for HIV. Upon completion of the blood test and interview, they received food or thrift store vouchers or $20 cash. Comparison of sexual and drug use behavior by sexual orientation reveals
"…higher levels of HIV risk among homeless gay/lesbian/bisexual youth than heterosexual youth" (p. 195); the former were sexually active at an earlier age and reported earlier onset of use of heroin, alcohol, amphetamines and cocaine.
"Differences in risk by sexual orientation were particularly pronounced among females" (p. 193). The authors recommend that HIV educational materials must be directed at a younger population –
"…by or before the age of 10 to achieve the greatest chance of influencing risk behavior before they become well established" (p. 198). Moreover, Moon et al. maintain that peer-designed and peer-led programs must be instituted to promote tolerance and to prevent both homophobia and self-destructive behaviours among gay/lesbian/bisexual youth.
Smart, Reginald G. and Alan C. Ogborne (1994). "Street youth in substance abuse treatment: characteristics and treatment compliance." Adolescence 29(115):733-745.
Commenting that the current population of street-involved youth includes many both substance abuse and serious psychiatric problems, this study focuses on street youth undergoing treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. Using data collected on 867 youth treated at centers in Ontario, the authors compare 261 homeless youth and 586 "conventional" youth for
"…social and demographic characteristics, alcohol and drug abuse histories, and treatment outcomes" (p. 734). A questionnaire designed especially for the study and featuring questions on psychosocial issues is used to compile data and to provide a way of assessing the effectiveness of participating treatment programs. Overall, comparisons indicate that street-involved youth have more problems and more serious problems than do non-street youth. These problems were social, economic and substance related. Homeless youth were more likely to be unemployed, on welfare, and to have legal and l problems, and their family backgrounds tended to be abusive. Street youth also tended to have psychological problems such as depression, low self-esteem, and hyperactivity, and they were more likely to define themselves as addicted to alcohol and drugs. A central finding of the study is that street-involved youth are more likely to leave treatment programs prematurely. The authors suggest that there is a need for more experimentation in the delivery of youth services, including
"…planned, brief interventions, the use of outreach workers to maintain contact with drop-outs, …and the establishment of long-term supportive residences for youth in treatment" (p. 745).
Smart, Reginald G. and Gordon W. Walsh (1993). "Predictors of depression in street youth." Adolescence 28(109):41-53.
This article documents the extent of depression and other psychiatric problems among a sample of 145 street-involved youth, 24 years old or younger, in Toronto. The study examines the relationship between depression and a range of factors, including alcohol and drug use, social support networks, self-esteem, and family background. Drawing on youth from both service agencies and the street, the authors (p. 43) selected young people for the study on the basis of criteria associated with leaving school, street involvement, use of social services, and homelessness. Respondents were paid $20 for answering a questionnaire and undergoing an interview. Depression, self esteem, social support, alcohol and drug problems, and family instability were measured using a series of scales and their association was assessed through regression analysis. The authors (p. 51) conclude that the most reliable indicators of depression among street-involved youth are self-esteem and amount of time spent in hostels. They (p. 51-52) observe that not only is low self-esteem self-reinforcing, but also
"depressed street youth are probably less able to cope with the problem of accommodations and more often require hostels… which are sometimes dirty, noisy, dangerous, and overcrowded", thus leading to further depression.
Sobo, Elisa J., Gregory D. Zimet, Teena Zimmerman et al. (1997). "Doubting the experts: AIDS misconceptions among runaway adolescents." Human Organization 56(3): 311-320.
This paper reports on attitudes and ideas held by street-involved youth about HIV/AIDS information and advice in order
"…to improve the effectiveness of AIDS/HIV education programs that target adolescents" (p. 311). The authors point out that homeless youths in urban areas may be at increased risk for AIDS as a result of their participation in high-risk sexual and drug use behaviors. They note that poverty and the need for food, shelter and money take priority over gaining access to condoms. Youth from two shelters in Cleveland, Ohio were surveyed using
"…a semi-structured face-to-face interview" (p. 314) format and a self-administered questionnaire to collect sexual decision-making data and information regarding attitudes towards AIDS experts and their advice. The survey analyzes data on the basis of both gender and ethnicity, but not sexual orientation. Results indicate numerous misconceptions and cynicism about AIDS information given to youth, with black youth and females tending to express more cynicism and to be more suspicious about information being withheld from them. Sobo et al. (p. 318) call for
"a far more ethnographically-oriented approach, complete with extensive participant observation and full-time contact with youths under study" to increase the reliability of the data and to decrease the need for self-reports which may be influenced by "
social acceptability" (p. 318).
Weber, Marlene (1991). Street Kids: The Tragedy of Canada's Runaways. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Consisting of a wide range of interviews with street youth collected unsystematically in several Canadian cities, Weber's work is of interest because the narratives yield a compendium of street experiences chronicled by both male and female youth from a variety of ethnic groups. She (p. 14) maintains that
"the street…is rife with racism, homophobia, and sexism" and provides examples that have been offered by the street youth she interviewed on their
"timetables and turf" (p. 5). Her study touches upon the dangers of shelters, sources of food, vulnerability to victimization and violence, and the
"oppressive problems" (p. 225) of drugs and alcohol. Although the book does not attempt a scientific analysis of life on the street for young people, careful reading of the interview material affords evidence of an array of problems, from cold weather to pregnancy, encountered by street youth. Many of these stresses are not described elsewhere in the literature surveyed.
Witt, Peter A. and John l. Compton, eds. (1996). Recreation Programs That Work for At-Risk Youth: The Challenge of Shaping the Future. State College, Penn.: Venture Publishing.
This edited volume contains 38 community case studies of model youth-at-risk programs developed by recreation and parks departments across North America in an effort to ameliorate societal problems involving youth at-risk. Programs designed specifically for street-involved youth include Youth 2000, a multicultural project in Montreal that brings together street-involved youth and adult
"animators" (p. 137) to act as role models and to facilitate youth participation and responsible commitment. In addition, the Northern Fly-In Sports Camps for aboriginal youth in Manitoba, is described as an attempt to bridge the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal cultures and to address
"…the need for programs and training emphasizing the value of physical activity." As well, a Late Night Recreation Program in Seattle, Washington directed at such cultural groups as Asians and Pacific Islanders, and an outreach partnership for homeless youth in Olympia, Washington that involves community youth services, parks and recreation, and city police are relevant to this discussion. All programs include full-participation by street-involved youth in design, development, and implementation and have been subject to evaluation methods. Although several of these programs had components directed at ethnically diverse youth and pregnant teens on the street, there is no mention of other components for girls nor of any directed at gay or lesbian youth nor at young people with disabilities.
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