Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Characteristics of Help-Seeking Street Youth and Non-Street Youth. Risk Issues

09/01/2007

For the total sample of callers, the most frequently reported general category of risk issues was family dynamics (74 percent). This finding is consistent with existing literature that suggests that running away and youth homelessness are both associated with and predicted by problems in the family or household (Hyde, 2005; Martinez, 2006; Safyer et al., 2004; Sanchez et al., 2006; Thompson & Pillai, 2006; Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999a). Within the domain of family dynamics, the subcategory of risk issues most frequently reported by the total sample were problems with parents or guardians and conflict with family or household rules.

Other frequently reported categories of issues among the total sample were peer or social problems (27 percent), problems related to youth or family service agencies (21 percent), physical abuse or assault (15 percent), and problems related to school or education (14 percent). The most frequently reported peer or social problems for the total set of callers, as well as for the runaway and homeless subgroups, were a need for adventure or independence, and problems related to Internet relationships.

 For throwaway callers, problems with friends or acquaintances and relationship problems were the most frequently reported peer or social issues. Issues related to protective service agencies most frequently pertained to county agencies (e.g., CPS, DCFS); residential, foster or group homes; and runaway shelters. Physical abuse or assault was frequently reported by the total sample and by runaway and throwaway callers relative to the reported rate of issues falling within other general domains of problems. Physical abuse or assault was most frequently perpetrated by a parent, and least frequently perpetrated by a non-relative. School/education issues most frequently reported by the total sample included problems with grades, dropping out, and truancy. For runaway and throwaway youth, the most frequently reported school/education issues were dropping out, truancy, and problems with grades. Problems with school or education were, in general, reported by relatively few long-term homeless youth (8 percent) as compared to the total sample (14 percent) and the runaway and throwaway samples (17 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

In general, the problems most frequently reported by street youth paralleled the problems most frequently reported by the sample as a whole. However, issues related to transportation were more frequently reported by runaways (18 percent) and homeless youth (19 percent) in comparison to the total sample (11 percent). This is likely related to homeless adolescents general lack of access to resources, lack of contact with adults who might provide transportation, and inability to pay for transportation. Transportation issues may also be overrepresented among this sample in comparison to other research samples of street youth due to NRSs well-publicized Home Free program.

In addition, neglect was much more frequently reported by throwaways (25 percent) in comparison to the total sample (6 percent) and the runaway and homeless youth subgroups (5 percent and 4 percent, respectively). High rates of neglect among throwaways may be directly related to the manner in which these adolescents come to be away from their home, in that being thrown out or denied access to the home suggests that the parent or guardian is refusing responsibility for the youths care.

It should be noted that any individual caller could potentially have indicated that he or she was experiencing problems in more than one general category as well as more than one than one specific problem or risk issue within each general category. A summary of the risk issue categories most frequently mentioned by callers is provided in Exhibit 8. A full listing of frequency analysis results for general categories and subcategories of risk issues is reported in Appendix B.

Exhibit 8
Key Risk Issue Data: Issues Most Frequently Mentioned by Youth Crisis Callers
to the National Runaway Switchboard, 20002005a
Total Sample Runaway Youth Throwaway Youth Homeless Youth
Family dynamics 74% Family dynamics 80% Family dynamics 91% Family dynamics 59%
Peer/social 28% Peer/social 31% Youth/family service agencies 32% Peer/social 24%
Youth/family service agencies 21% Youth/family service agencies 26% Neglect 25% Youth/family service agencies 22%
Physical abuse/assault 16% Physical abuse/assault 19% Physical abuse/assault 14% Transportation 19%
School/education 14% Transportation 18% Peer/social 13% Economic issues 11%
a Percentages sum to more than 100 percent because individual callers may have reported more than one category of risk issues.

Risk Issues Predicting Street Youth or Non-Street Youth Status

Based on the frequency analyses of issues that prompted or preceded calls to NRS, risk issues were selected that substantially differentiated between street youth and non-street youth for further exploration (see Exhibits 9 and 10). Based on prior research involving NRS callers (Molino et al., 2006a, 2006b), it was expected that family dynamics and judicial issues of the youth would be among the issues found to predict street youth status, while mental health issues, emotional and verbal abuse, suicidality, and family substance use would be among the issues found to predict non-street youth status. Other risk issues examined during this analysis included problems with youth or family service agencies, neglect, issues pertaining to school or education, physical health issues of the youth and issues related to transportation. In contrast to earlier research involving NRS callers (Molino et al., 2006b), alcohol or drug use by the family was found to be a non-significant predictor of both street youth and non-street youth status for the sample, and was thus removed from the final regression model.

Exhibit 9
Variables Predicting Status as a Street Youth for Youth Crisis Callers
to the National Runaway Switchboard, 20002005
Variables B SE Odds Ratio 95% CI Significance
Involvement of the youth in the judicial system 0.70 0.06 2.02 1.78 2.29 p < 0.01
Problems with youth or family service agencies 0.60 0.03 1.83 1.72 1.94 p < 0.01
Neglect 0.39 0.06 1.47 1.32 1.64 p < 0.01
Family dynamics 0.35 0.03 1.42 1.34 1.50 p < 0.01
School or education issues 0.14 0.04 1.15 1.07 1.23 p < 0.01
Issues related to transportation 1.35 0.05 3.85 3.52 4.20 p < 0.01

 

Exhibit 10
Variables Predicting Status as a NonStreet Youth for Youth Crisis Callers
to the National Runaway Switchboard, 20002005
Variables B SE Odds Ratio 95% CI Significance
Mental health issues of the youth 0.87 0.04 2.38 2.19 2.59 p < 0.01
Suicidality of the youth 0.79 0.08 2.20 1.89 2.57 p < 0.01
Emotional or verbal abuse 0.43 0.04 1.54 1.42 1.68 p < 0.01
Physical health issues of the youth 0.35 0.05 1.42 1.30 1.56 p < 0.01

 

Using a regression model,[6] issues related to transportation were the single best predictor of street youth status (odds ratio [OR] = 3.85), but these issues were likely to have been reported particularly frequently among our sample because NRS provides access to the Home Free program. The other general problem domains that best predicted inclusion in the street youth category were involvement of the youth in the judicial system, problems with youth or family service agencies, neglect, family dynamics and issues pertaining to school or education. The problem domains that best predicted non-street status were mental health issues, suicidality, emotional or verbal abuse and physical health issues. These findings were generally consistent with prior research on NRS callers (Molino et al., 2006b), and also call attention to additional issues that were not noted as significant in previous studies of NRS callers.

A summary of the risk issue categories predicting street youth and non-street youth status is provided in Exhibit 11.

Exhibit 11
Summary Table of Risk Issues
Predicting Street and Non-Street Youth Status for Youth Crisis Callers
to the National Runaway Switchboard, 20002005
Risk Issues Predicting Inclusion in Street Youth Category Risk Issues Predicting Inclusion in Non-Street Youth Category
  • Involvement of youth in judicial system
  • Problems with youth/family service agencies
  • Neglect
  • Family dynamics
  • School/education issues
  • Transportation issues
  • Mental health issues of the youth
  • Suicidality of the youth
  • Emotional/verbal abuse
  • Physical health issues of the youth

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