Abstract: Social Support Networks of Homeless Youth and Relation to Homelessness and Victimization Experiences (Society for Prevention Research 24th Annual Meeting)

269 Social Support Networks of Homeless Youth and Relation to Homelessness and Victimization Experiences

Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Pacific D/L (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Anamika Barman-Adhikari, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, Assistant Professor, State University of New York College at Buffalo (Buffalo State College), Buffalo, NY
Kimberly Bender, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Samantha Brown, MA, Doctoral Student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Eric Rice, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Homeless youth experience multiple forms of victimization, placing them at an increased risk for emotional and behavioral health problems. Emergent research suggests that homeless youths’ outcomes may be ameliorated through their engagement with supportive social-networks, including street-based and home-based peers, family, and service providers. Furthermore, the heterogeneity of these social-networks (i.e. whether they are seeking support from their street-peers or other sources) has implications on the kind of behaviors that they engage in (risky or protective). Though, developing and sustaining positive supportive relationships are often difficult for homeless youth; youth who lack such networks may be at a disadvantage and subjected to recurrent high-risk situations. This current study therefore aimed to understand the composition of and correlates of these different sources of social-support.

Methods: 1,046 homeless youth were recruited from two drop-in centers in California. Youth completed computerized self-administered survey that assessed demographic, victimization type, and risk behavior variables. A social-network interview was used to assess the types of support (e.g. instrumental vs. emotional) received from different relationships (e.g. peer vs. family).  Multivariate logistic regressions examined whether youths’ homelessness background and victimization experiences were associated with differential emotional and instrumental social-networks.

Results: Youth who were unstably housed were less likely to seek emotional support from street-based peers (OR=59, p<.001), and emotional (OR=.36, p<.0001) and instrumental (OR=.51, p<.01) support from family. However, these youth were approximately five times more likely to seek instrumental-support from professional staff (OR=5.64, p<.01). Youth exposed to child physical abuse were more likely to seek emotional support from home-based peers (OR=2.90, p<.01) and street-based peers (OR=2.45, p<.01), but were less likely to seek emotional support from family (OR=.11, p<.0001). Surprisingly, youth exposed to street victimization were more likely to seek all forms of support: emotional and instrumental-support from home-based peers (OR=5.36, p<. 000; OR=6.25, p<.0001), street-based peers (OR=5.76, p<.0001; OR=4.10, p<.0001), family (OR=4.59; p<.0001; OR=6.14, p<.0001), and professional-staff (OR=5.49, p<.0001; OR=27.73, p<.0001), respectively.

Conclusion: Findings suggest the need to screen for homelessness experiences and victimization types in addition to considering the common supports utilized by youth in order to maximize youths’ social-networks. Notably, youth with previous exposure to victimization may in fact seek various forms of support as a potential coping mechanism, while unstable housing may create a barrier to forming supportive networks. That youth seek emotional and instrumental supports when available highlights the importance of cultivating healthy relationships with different members among this vulnerable population.