Youth Homelessness Family Dysfunction



Youth homelessness is a major concern of society due to how vulnerable this population is. There has been a large amount of research pertaining to the topic of youth homelessness and different factors affecting their rehabilitation. The literature shows similar findings of family influence being a factor in a homeless (Tyler et Al., 2013; Stein et al., 2002). Additionally literature shows that a drug use and unstable housing conditions are found among homeless youth’s families (Ringwalt et al., 1998; Bucker et al. 1997; Hagen & McCarthy, 1997).

Although there is many studies addressing that there are multiple family moves, none of them address the specific reasons of why they moved. This family dysfunction has found to harbor cases of emotional, psychical, and sexual abuse (Colette & Stephen, 2002; Bucker et al., 1997; Maclean et al., 1999; Ryan et al., 2000; Tyler et al., 2000). Youth may make attempts to leave the family home only to be returned home by authorities (Ferguson, 2009). This creates a cycle of running away and a distrust for authorities and services that can hinder the homeless youth’s rehabilitation into society.

Family dysfunction and unstable housing can introduce traumatic events onto a youth giving way to mental disorders which are further developed while on the street (Kidd, 2004; Tyler et al., 2013; Dubas et al., 1996; Davidson & Mansion, 1996). High victimization rates among homeless youth is a major factor creating traumatic events in their lives.

The needs for a successful transition into adulthood will be addressed as well as a comparison of housed and homeless youth as they transition into adulthood. Both the housed and their unhoused counterparts share the same needs but the availability to access those needs differs ((Dubas et al., 1996; Fingerman et al., 2012; Tyler et al., 2013), showing the need for social services to fulfill those needs.

Literature has also found that once a youth is on the streets they search for relationships usually with peers with similar backgrounds. (Ferguson, 2009). Furthermore literature states that being in a stable relationship helps with the rehabilitation out of homelessness (Toro et al., 2007 ; Chamberlain & Johnson, 2008). However an unstable relationship may hinder a youth’s transition out of homelessness (Chris et al. 2008). Some relationships may also be two sided (Colette et al. 2002). This literature will be examined further on in the paper.

The daily activities of homeless youth pose numerous threats and can coincide with the homeless youth population’s high rate of victimization (Hagen & McCarthy, 1997; Tyler et al., 2010). Victimization can happen directly or indirectly to the homeless youth and both types share similar consequences (Tyler et al., 2010; Hoyt et al., 1999; Hagen & McCarthy, 1997; Ferguson, 2009; Stewart et al., 2004; Kipke et al., 1997).

Lastly the purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the factors surrounding youth homelessness so that measurements as well as policy recommendations may be made to further develop intervention methods. Furthermore this paper aims to produce the following things; a measure of family moves among homeless youth, recommendations for early intervention on perspectives of social services, as well as a measurement of relationship strength.

Literature Review

Parental influence

One of the most important factors in rehabilitation from youth homelessness is the stable relationships that the youth have. Family relationships for these youth are often clouded with neglect as well as abuse (Claudine, 2006; Toro et al., 2007; Tyler et al., 2013). Criminality, as well as drug use is common in the parents of homeless youth, and research has found found that most families of homeless youth were relying on social assistance (Ringwalt et al., 1998; Bucker et al. 1997). Stein et al. (2002), state that parental substance abuse can be linked to a youth’s own use of substances. Greene Ennett, and Ringwalt (1997) gathered and analyzed data from national representative survey and found that 75% of homeless youth used marijuana; 25% of them having used crack, cocaine, or inhalants; and 17% having engaged in injection drug use. Other family members such as siblings may influence a youth by exposing them to drug us as well. One youth who used marijuana stated that she didn’t have any friends and her older sisters were the ones who introduced her to drugs (Tyler et Al., 2013).

Housing Transitions

It is also common that homeless youth experienced multiple house and school transitions prior to becoming homeless (Buckner et al., 1997). Moving multiple times creates an instability in the youth’s lives because they need to find new friends and do not have a stable household. Research has also found that homeless youth often report that they have not lived with both of their biological parents (Hagen & McCarthy, 1997) However there is no measurements on the type of move as there may be different reasons for moving, with some circumstances causing more instability than others. This is an important gap to research because it can provide information on how certain types of house transitions affect the youth into becoming homeless. Also the distance moved should be accounted for because a move down the street may affect a youth differently than moving over larger distances

Past Abuse

Also Youth interviewed by Colette and Stephen(2002) generally shared a common dysfunctional family dynamic prior to becoming homeless which shows the similarities in the individuals. Previous literature backs this up as it was found that contributing to the familial dysfunction, domestic violence is a common experience in these homeless youth’s homes (Buckner et al. 1997). Emotional as well as physical abuse in the family home are consistently high in the homeless youth population (Maclean et al., 1999). Histories of family abuse and neglect can be seen in a study done by Ryan et al. (2000), which found that 33% of the participants did not experience either sexual or physical abuse in their family home which shows how high the rate of abuse is in this population. Findings of high emotional, sexual, and physical abuse has also been discovered by Tyler et al. (2000), who states that at least thirty percent of homeless youth have experienced sexual abuse in the home.

Abused and neglected youth may try to escape their household only to be returned home by the police and social services. Repeated running away and being returned home by authorizes creates a cycle of running away, as youth view the streets as freedom from the neglect and abuses at home (Ferguson, 2009). There is a flaw in the way these youth are dealt with by the authorities and it can be related to the homeless youth’s reluctance to access services later on. There is no research highlighting a homeless youths early experiences with social services and how those experiences may affect their decision to access services later on.

The problems associated with family dysfunction and abuse include poor school performance, conflict with peers and teachers, as well as conduct problems (Hagan et at., 1997; Bassuk et al., 1996). Previous literature backs up this claim that children and youth who experience neglect and abuse feel isolated, ostracized, seeing others as a threat, with a fear of rejection (Wagner et al., 2007; Bassuk et al., 1996). These early experiences can lead to a distrust of other people including social service workers, which hinders their ability for rehabilitation into contemporary society. The homeless youth’s family history leading to their perception on social services should be taken into account to further develop intervention strategies to encourage participation.


Mental illness is an important factor when it comes to the rehabilitation of homeless youth and their transition into contemporary society. Kidd (2004), states that homeless youth and children are a high risk population who suffer from multiple problems including mental health. Family dysfunction is a major contributor to the poor mental health of homeless youth (Tyler et al., 2013). Many factors of family dysfunction can hinder a youth’s ability to develop mentally at the same rate as peers from non-dysfunctional families (Dubas et al., 1996). In addition to a hindered mental development, homeless youth have a higher risk of experiencing traumatic events in dysfunctional families (Dubas et al., 1996). It has been found that youth deal with their mental illnesses through peer guidance rather than through professionals (Davidson & Manion, 1996). Without strong bonds youth who experience traumatic events often use drugs to mask those events with substance dependence (Greene et al., 1996). Because the youth use their peers for advice more than professionals, strategies must be implemented in order show youth that professional help is the rational choice for advice.

Transition to adulthood

The departure from home is an expectation in North American society, and is also a major step into adulthood (Dubas et al., 1996). This stage of life is important because it shapes the way a youth live their life’s (Tyler et al., 2013), showing the need for stability in this stage of a youth’s life. Youth from stable family homes are still not prepared to make the transition into adulthood, often relying of family for both emotional as well as financial support to become self-sufficient (Fingerman et al., 2012). With youths in stable homes relying on their family bonds both emotionally and financially the dilemma with homeless youth transitioning into adulthood is apparent because of their lack of bonds and financial support. Seeing as homeless youth often come from poverty, their families may not have the means to support them financially as they gain skills to become self-sufficient. Also due to a families drug use, absence due to incarceration, and physical abuse, and emotional abuse, the emotional support that is needed to make the transition into adulthood may not be available. These findings back up the need to implement early intervention strategies to show youth that the services are there to help them.

Seeking Relationships

After leaving the home, youth seek out relationships usually with peers with similar past experiences (Ferguson, 2009). In a study done on homeless youth between the ages of 14 and 26, it was found that being in a stable relationship positively influences the transition out of homelessness (Toro et al., 2007). These findings are corroborated through multiple qualitative interviews done by Chamberlain and Johnson (2008), which found that while the homeless youths had unstable or non-existent relationships at home, they had a network of peers with similar backgrounds in the streets. When homeless youth socialize with each other they gain a sense of belonging that they desire which seems like the reasonable decision to them (Chris et al., 2008). Toro and Johnston (2008) also state that once people become homeless they develop peer relationships with others that share their life experiences, and create a sense of belonging. Newly homeless youth who are seeking a sense of belonging should be able to find it through social services, although it has been found that participants in these services are un-cohesive (Fingerman et al., 2012).

Find Out How Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

It is important to decide whether these relationships are actually positive or just perceived as positive by the youth. These street experienced peers influence the homeless youth into the subculture of homelessness, leading them to multiple risk factors which further entangles the homeless youth in the lifestyle and greatens the need for social services. An example of a relationship that could be either positive or negative would be what Colette and Stephen (2002) describe as street mentorship. These mentors can see the weakness in a newly homeless youth and will use them in exchange for street knowledge (Colette et al. 2002; Wilks et al., 2008). There needs to be a measurement created to more accurately measure relationship strengths taking into account that some relationships may be double edged.

Street Victimization

Once a youth is on the streets they face further stressors as well as well as a high rate of victimization (Tyler et al., 2010). Different activities these homeless youth may participate in include attempts to find work, asking for money from their family and peers, panhandling, prostitution, survival sex, dealing drugs, and theft (Hagen & McCarthy, 1997; Tyler et al., 2010). The types of victimization experienced include verbal, physical, as well as sexual (Ferguson, 2009). A study done by Stewart et al., (2004) estimated the number of direct violent experiences of victimization to be 83% among homeless youth. This victimization can further develop existing mental health issues as well as develop new ones (Tyler et al., 2010). The consequences of victimization relating to mental health include post-traumatic stress disorder, depressive cycles, self-harm, drug use, and suicidal thoughts (Tyler et al., 2010; Hoyt et al., 1999).

Indirect victimization is found to be almost as harmful as directly being victimized (Ferguson, 2009). Indirect victimization can include losing a loved one, experiencing threats, and the victimization of others (Ferguson, 2009; Kipke et al., 1997). Homeless youth often lose loved ones due to high rates of mortality among the population with suicide being the leading cause (Kidd & Davidson, 2006). The mortality rate among homeless youth in Canada is eleven times higher than their peers (Shaw & Dorling, 1998), showing that homeless youth are likely to experience the loss of one of their peers. Kipke et al. (1997) interviewed homeless youth and found that 16% have witnessed someone being sexually assaulted, 20% have seen someone get killed, and 72% have witnessed a violent attack.

Developed measures/ Policy Recommendations

Measures of Family Moves among Homeless Youth

After reviewing the literature gaps relating to measurement as well as areas important to study have become apparent. First of all there are no comparative studies done on different circumstances in which families of homeless youth move homes and its relationship to a youth becoming homeless. This area is important to study so that a better understanding on the effect of multiple moves and their circumstances as they relate to a youth becoming homeless. This may help inform social workers on at risk children and youth at becoming homeless. First of all in order to measure the type of move a scale from zero to three will be devised. Youth who report having a more negative experience with a move will answer closer to three and a youth who has a more positive experience will choose closer to zero. All the scores of a youth will be added together depending on how many moves they have experienced. The higher the score the more at risk the youth is to becoming homeless. Each individual move can be examined to see what circumstances of moves creates a more negative experience for the youth.

Also there is no data showing the relationship between distance that the youth’s family moves and the youth’s likelihood at becoming homeless. In order for this area to be researched a youth must be able to remember general addresses in order for the distanced moved to be measured. Multiple move distances can be added together in order to gain an insight on the total distance of moves the youth experiences. Also two groups need to be surveyed including a control group compromising of housed youth, and a study group who are currently homeless. I hypothesize that the study group will have significantly higher distances moved when compared to the control group. Youth whose families move over longer distances may have to break off relationships they have made as they enter a new area with no bonds to rely on. The youth who is in a new area may make they feel isolated due to the unfamiliarity. On the other hand I hypothesize that youth who are housed will have a lower distance of family moves. Shorter family moves allows the youth to stay in contact with friends and teachers and they give them emotional support.

Early experiences with Social services and Current Perception of Social Services

The early experiences that youth have with social services likely will have an impact on the way they perceive and use social services. In order to gain an insight on the way a youth perceives social services a qualitative interview should be used in order to gather thoughts and emotions felt by the homeless youth. A study should consist of homeless youth and should take into account the early experiences that a youth has with social services. These early experiences could include removal of siblings by a children’s aid worker, returning the homeless youth home due to police picking them up, interactions with teachers, as well as interactions with councilors. The early experiences can then be compared to the youth’s current perception on social services. This research will provide social workers with an insight on the reasons why social services are not used to their potential so that they can employ practices that can accompany these homeless youth’s needs.

Relationship Strength

Street relationships are hard to measure due to their negative and positive attributes. In order to find the strengths and weaknesses in street relationships a survey can be implemented accessing each relationship a homeless youth may have with another homeless youth. The following questions can be asked to represent different aspects of a relationship and can be evaluated to see whether street relationships are positive or negative. 0 will be looked at as negative and 5 will be looked at as positive. Overall these questions can determine the strengths and flaws of street relationships:

  1. How much comfort do you feel knowing that this person is there for you
  2. Could you rely on this person in an emergency
  3. Are drugs used when hanging around each other
  4. Are crimes committed when hanging around each other
  5. Has this person given advice that has allowed you to survive on the street?
  6. Has this person taken advantage of you(Selling drugs for them, or committed a crime for them)

Discussion/ Conclusion

Each individual homeless youth has a variety of factors that lead them to the streets and hinders their ability to leave. The previous literature done on homeless youth have done a good job finding the factors behind a youth becoming homeless but fail to go into detail on each individual factor. Using the scales developed above, further interviews can extract valuable information that can influence early intervention strategies.

Also there is a sufficient amount of research done on the reasons why homeless youth avoid using social services. Little research is done the early experiences with social services but it remains important to research because it is unknown how these experiences have an effect of a homeless youth’s decision to use social services.

There is also a large amount of literature showing that the type of relationship significantly affects whether or not a youth can escape homelessness. This survey can measure relationship strength and therefore evaluate whether or not that relationship is positive or negative.

Finally future research can use these developed measures and policy recommendations to further research in the field. It is important that youth are exposed to positive experiences with social services early, so social service workers should educate youth early on about their programs and services available. Overall this paper examines the details that have been overlooked by the previous literature.

Shaw, mortality among street youth in the UK

Davidson and mansion facing the challenge: mental health and illness in Canadian youth 1996




Approximately 250 words