Primary Sources: How Can Homeless Youth Contribute to Programs That Serve Them?

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Photograph of a young man talking with a youth worker

Enhancing Empowerment and Leadership Among Homeless Youth in Agency and Community Settings: A Grounded Theory Approach (abstract). The Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1 (2011).

What it's about: Researchers held focus groups with a total of 47 youth in urban homeless shelters, asking whether staff members consider and use young people’s opinions.

Why read it: This article offers insight into how youth workers can engage youth in the design and implementation of services that benefit them.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Four themes emerged from the focus groups:

  • Youth voice and ownership. The majority of youth were enthusiastic about forming a resident council through which peer-elected members could provide a bridge between clients and staff and increase young people’s contribution to agency policy and decision making.
  • Emotional safety. Youth wanted to be able to meet with agency staff regularly to discuss concerns, not just when something bad happens.
  • Power. Youth did not feel comfortable sharing their opinions with administrators, and they said they didn’t have the power to make change. They wanted a greater sense of community and assurance that administrative staff and administrators would know, understand and respect youth, treat them as individuals, and allow their input on programs and services.
  • Reciprocal support. Youth proposed creating a peer mentor program. Alumni and youth who have been at agencies the longest would counsel other youth and share job resources and connections, not only at their own agencies but in collaboration with other local shelters for homeless youth and families. This community service would also help build youths’ resumes.

Additional references:  A toolkit (PDF, 1.61 MB) from the National Resource Center for Youth Development offers advice on engaging youth in meetings and events. The Forum for Youth Investment’s guide to building effective youth councils includes a “pyramid of opportunities” illustrating different levels of involvement youth can have. For more insight on creating an environment that encourages youth to contribute to agency policies and programs, read NCFY’s "Bright Idea: Finding Creative Ways to Engage Homeless Youth."

(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 this and other publications.)

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