Caregiver Rejection Sets Young People Up for Homelessness

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A sad young person looks out a window.

Homeless Young People’s Experiences of Caregiver Rejection,” (abstract). Rachel M. Schmitz and Kimberly A. Tyler. Journal of Child and Family Studies, Vol. 24, No. 9 (2015).

What it’s about: We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are overrepresented among homeless youth, and among those youth, many report family rejection as their main reason for homelessness. Schmitz and Tyler wanted to know how homeless youth experience caregiver rejection, and how family dynamics shaped their experiences. To find out, they conducted semi-structured interviews with 40 homeless young people – 16 males and 24 females – between the ages of 19 and 21 years old. Of these participants, 34 identified as heterosexual, 3 as gay or lesbian, and 3 as bisexual; 27 were white, 8 were African American, 1 was Hispanic, and 4 were of mixed ethnicity.

Why read it: The authors note previous research showing that homeless youth who experience parental rejection are at a greater risk for running away from home repeatedly than those who have not had this experience. Yet, few studies have examined in-depth homeless young people’s experiences of caregiver rejection during the critical period when youth are transitioning to adulthood, they say. They intend for their study to fill this gap and help service providers and researchers better understand the experiences and needs of this population.

Biggest takeaways: Schmitz and Tyler learned that 36 of the young people in the study—that is, 90%—reported at least one type of caregiver rejection. Most participants reported more than one experience from the following list:

Pushed into institutional living. Half of the young people who reported caregiver rejection had been placed in institutional settings like foster care. These situations were often caused by discord at home, such as behavioral problems.

[Learn more about the experiences and needs of homeless youth with a history of foster care.]

Feeling like an outsider. Of those who experienced caregiver rejection, 16 youth felt like they were not part of the family. Often they believed that they'd be better off running away because their family failed to understand them.

Betrayed by a primary caregiver. Nine of the young people in the study reported that their main parental figure had rejected them on behalf of the parent’s romantic partner, like a boyfriend or girlfriend. Several reported fending off an adult’s sexual advances, followed by having their claims repudiated by a caregiver.

Kicked out by a caregiver. Of the participants, 7 had been kicked out by a caregiver. Parental rejection led some of them to become embedded in street life and distrustful of adult authority figures.

While the researchers do not make suggestions to prevent young people’s experiences of caregiver rejection, they do suggest that certain things can help: early intervention programs for runaway and homeless youth, reaching out to young people before they become embedded into street life, and considering the family background that might be pushing adolescents into a pattern of homelessness. They note that further research that includes caregiver perspectives and a larger and more diverse sample group is needed. They also recommend that further research explore  potentially healthy family relationships among homeless youth.  

Additional References: Look for more articles about family or caregiver rejection, or experiences of LGBTQ homeless youth

Read about the factors that increase the risk that youth in foster care will run away from their current placement.

Read guidance from the Family and Youth Services Bureau and the Children’s Bureau on appropriate services for youth who run away from foster care and come into contact with runaway and homeless youth programs.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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