Primary Sources: What Happens When Homeless Youth Do the Research?

A young man standing in an alley and smiling.

Engaging Homeless Youth in Community-Based Participatory Research: A Case Study From Skid Row, Los Angeles” (abstract). Analilia P. Garcia, Meredith Minkler, Zelenne Cardenas, Cheryl Grills, and Charles Porter. Health Promotion Practice, vol. 15 no. 1 (January 2014).

What it’s about: Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, Social Model Recovery Systems, Inc. and Loyola Marymount University wanted to know whether and how involving homeless youth in community-based research could benefit the young researchers and also lead to improved policies in the community.

Together with the United Coalition East Prevention Project, a program working in Skid Row to promote community wellness, the research team recruited and mentored 15 African American and Latino young people between the ages of 11 and 19. The youth designed a research project, surveying 96 youth in Skid Row about their attitudes about and experiences in their neighborhood and schools.

Why read it: Evidence shows that young people benefit from doing community-based research, but few studies have explored how they might benefit from helping to shape policy based on this research.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The coalition used the results of the survey to discuss who was responsible for problems and what could be done to make lasting change. They produced a report called "Toxic Playground: Growing Up in Skid Row" (PDF, 843KB). They organized an awareness campaign that resulted in better treatment of homeless students and dedicated time for young people in local parks. Garcia et al. note that the changes would not have been possible without the youth who shared their stories and worked to make changes in their community.

Youth in this study learned to persist in working for policy change in spite of setbacks. By the end of the study, young participants had experienced examples of success, rather than internalizing negative perceptions about their community.

Additional references: Find abstracts of other literature on youth engagement in our digital library.

"Putting Positive Development into Practice" gives an in-depth introduction to Positive Youth Development, an approach to working with young people that encourages and empowers them. Of particular interest is "Chapter Three: Collaborating for Change." The book includes practical tips, checklists and resources for learning more.

To help programs connect youth with service opportunities, provides material on youth volunteering and civic engagement, including what we know about civic engagement and volunteering, recruiting and involving youth, and engaging youth in service. The site also includes a map to locate federally supported youth programs in your community.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

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