Primary Sources: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Trauma in the Lives of Homeless Youth

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Photograph of a homeless young person.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Trauma in the Lives of Homeless Youth Prior to and During Homelessness, (PDF, 541KB) Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, Vol. 37, No. 4, December 2010.

What it’s about:  The authors interviewed 102 homeless youth in Canada about trauma in their lives, both before and during homelessness. They found that trauma is both a cause and a consequence of youth being homeless.

Why read it: Research suggests that most homeless youth have experienced multiple traumatic events, both before leaving home and once they arrive on the street. Trauma impacts young people’s ability to get off the street, form permanent connections, and become self-sufficient. This report provides strategies that youth workers can use to better serve youth affected by trauma.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The authors link common barriers to moving off the street (like drug use, mental health issues, and challenges in readjusting to a more routine lifestyle) to the effects of trauma. The authors suggest that how young people understand their traumatic experiences can have powerful effects on identity, sense of self-worth, life course, and relationships. Youth workers can help homeless youth find ways to “replace internalized messages of guilt and shame with a more empowering understanding…of self, relationships and beliefs that create hope and possibility.”

At the organizational level, those creating services for homeless youth must become more versatile, so that interventions can be tailored to an individual youth’s circumstances and needs. The authors recommend creating physical environments that are safe; developing policies and procedures based on the assumption that most young people will be managing the effects of trauma; reviewing current policies and practices to ensure that they do not re-traumatize young people; establishing services that offer caring, long-term relationships; and providing training on trauma-informed care.

Additional Reference: Researchers used an adapted version of the Trauma History Questionnaire,a 24-item survey that asks about experiences with potentially traumatic events like crime, general disaster, and sexual and physical assault.

Learn more about trauma-informed care on NCFY’s website.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.)

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