Primary Sources: How Social Connections Benefit Homeless Youth

A young woman stands in front of a newly painted mural.

Social Connectedness and Self-Esteem: Predictors of Resilience in Mental Health among Maltreated Homeless Youth” (abstract). Michelle T. Dang. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 35 (2014).

What it’s about: One hundred and fifty homeless youth ages 14 to 21 answered a series of computer-based questionnaires that gauged their health in six areas: psychological distress, family connectedness, school connectedness, relationships with prosocial peers, self-esteem, and parental and caregiver maltreatment. Author Michelle T. Dang was looking to determine whether a positive network of support and high self-worth made young people more resilient when facing the effects of trauma.

Why read it: One of the priorities of the Family & Youth Services Bureau is to deepen understanding about how protective factors promote young people's health and well-being. Rather than defining resiliency as a static personality trait, the author sees it as a "dynamic process” that rises and falls over the course of a person's life as they grow and encounter different obstacles. 

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: Using regression analysis, the author confirmed that positive social connectedness and high self-esteem protected youth in the study against traumatic experiences. Youth with these protective factors reported "better mental health” across all participants, Dang writes.

Dang advocates for programmatic approaches that encourage self-esteem and social connectedness, since those qualities often result in greater resilience. For example, providing opportunities for social media use and family visits can improve young people’s sense of connectedness. And strengths-based programming, coupled with regular opportunities for independent accomplishment, can improve youth’s self-esteem. Though the author doesn’t specify which activities help encourage autonomy, research shows that art-making and volunteer opportunities can help achieve this goal.

Additional references: NCFY has written about various ways of improving youth self-esteem, including art projects and farm work. Previous research has confirmed the value of social media in improving youth connectedness.

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

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