Gap Analysis of Research Literature on Issues Related to Street-Involved Youth

5. Programmatic Responses To Street-Involved Youth

One of the areas of interest flagged for this study was an examination of the range of programmatic responses to assist street-involved youth. It was recognized that the scope and timing of the study would allow for a relatively modest response to this interest. However, there are two points the authors would like to make, in the hope of advancing planning for future research on this complex topic of street-involved youth.

First, any review of this topic calls for a workable typology of programmatic responses. In our view, this has been done, and done well, by Brannigan and Caputo, in their 1993 study of runaways and street youth in Canada. They point out that a workable typology must be able to have categories that are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. They developed a typology that took into account first, the length of time on the street and, second, the nature of their participation in street culture. From this framework they developed what they call a "continuum of services…that encompasses a broad range of programs" (1993: 148, passem). The typology thus flows from:

Preventive programs
(information and education on risks of alcohol, various sexual practices, early school leaving, programs for the provision of condoms, needle exchanges, etc.), to
Crisis intervention programs
(stabilize youth in crisis, emergency healthcare, emergency safehouse shelter, etc.), to
Maintenance programs
to meet on-going needs of youth while on the street (money, shelter, clothing, transportation, emotional support, legal and health services, etc.), to
Transitional programs
to help youth leave the street (life skills training, special educational and employment programs), to
Incapacitation programs
aimed at protecting the youth who is most in danger to self or others, or is criminally involved and "incapacitated" through incarceration. (If these programs are "protective" they can also be seen as crisis intervention. If related to criminal behaviour, they may include rehabilitative services to assist the youth in not repeating the behaviour.)

In our own review of the literature, it seems clear that any of the programs reviewed would be fit within the appropriate segment of the Brannigan and Caputo service typology. Their typology is useful work that could be applied to future study. However, simply slotting current programs into the typology would tend to be more of an "academic" exercise than one that would be useful for research planning at departmental levels. (It might be useful at a community level however, to identify local gaps in programming that should be considered for ensuring that there is an appropriate range of services for youth.)

However, there is another issue in looking at programmatic responses that became apparent in our study. That is, there are a number of studies that describe a program, but few or none that report on the evaluation ofit. Or rather, there may well be evaluations existing, but these are rarely turned into articles for publication[4]. Hence, it is not possible from a standard review of the traditional literature to learn which programmatic responses offer the most hope of success, which are "best practices" in programming. A simple description of programming, or the application of a typology to programs, while useful for clear conceptualization of certain issues and systematic perception of the programmatic responses themselves, cannot advance understanding of program effectiveness.

To do this, it would be necessary to identify and collect evaluations of programs, quite possibly categorized according to the Brannigan and Caputo typology. Then there could be a "meta-analysis" of programming effectiveness. This exercise would not be without its difficulties, of course. Issues such as evaluation research quality, comparability of methodology, consistency of data, consistency of data analysis, etc. – all would have to be taken into account. However, a systematic approach to the task, recognizing that its rigor may be somewhat limited, could be of considerable value for program planning at departmental, provincial, regional, or local levels. Hence, we do suggest such an enterprise as one of the research gaps to be considered.

[4] Of course, there is a whole evaluation research literature, which could be searched for reports on street-youth programming. These reports would be of great interest, but the numbers are likely to be small. The more likely source of evaluation research reports would be the departments that funded the program/research in the first place. This can be done, though it would naturally take some digging, given the sometimes ephemeral nature of archiving such materials.

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