Researchers have identified youth homelessness as one of the more troubling of the problems confronting societies today. Not only does youth homelessness represent lost potential but it is a contributory crime factor (Choca and Minoff, 2004). The dimensions of the problem cannot be underestimated and, indeed, are only affirmed by statistics which indicate that homelessness figures across England border on the quarter of a million figure (Strelitz, 2002). The United Kingdom has the highest homelessness rate in the European Union and, one of the highest in the West
2.0 Literature Review
Children in care are required to leave the system upon turning 18. Society expects these youth, who have suffered abuse or neglect and have never formed permanent mature relationships with adults, to be self sufficient and independent. While other children have parents that they can live with and are willing to pay for their college tuition, youth in care have no one. Renting an apartment with no parent to co-sign a lease, finding money for a security deposit, and getting to work or school without money for transportation, and being able to feed themselves in the absence of a job, are several of the obstacles care leavers confront. As a result, many care leavers confront negative outcomes, primarily homelessness (Barth, 1996).
2.1 The Demographics of Homelessness
In his study on the demographics of homelessness, Barn (2001) indicated that youth homeless was not an ethnic minority problem but a predominantly economic one. Wright’s (2002) findings are consistent with Barn’s (2002) conclusions. Commander (2002) and Mendes and Moslehuddin (2006) concur, emphasising that the demographics suggest that youth homelessness cuts across ethnic groupings but not economic ones. Nevertheless, they contend that the demographics reveal a more important commonality between the homeless youth. Specifically stated, the greater majority of the homeless across the United Kingdom are care leavers. Indeed, both studies independently maintain that incidents of hopelessness amongst domiciled youth are rare.
2.2 Homelessness: The Risk Factors
In a cross-cultural study, Kurtz, Jarvis, and Kurtz (1991) identified five causes of homelessness. First, youth who are already members of homeless families are often separated from them because many shelters do not serve older youth. Youth from homeless families may be placed in foster care or emergency shelter system and consequently experience disintegration of ties with their families. Some studies, according to Pain and Francis (2004) suggested that as much as one-third of Britain’s total homeless and in-care youth population came from homeless families, or ones which had simply disintegrated due to divorce or the death of the bread winner. Smith (2005), however, puts the figure at closer to 40 , adding that mental instability/problems in one of the parents as a leading predicator of homelessness and familial disintegration.
A second reason for youth homeless is physical and sexual abuse (Pain and Francis, 2005). Kurtz et al. (1991) and Pain and Francis (2005) suggested the third reason is because youth are thrown or pushed out of their homes by parents or guardians. A fourth group of homeless are those that are removed from homes at an early age because of family abuse, neglect, or unwillingness or inability to care for them. They are taken into state custody and become foster youth. The fifth group of homeless youth are members of minority groups who have immigrated to Great Britain, whether legally or as illegal asylum seekers, and are attempting to make themselves inconspicuous. Due to their lack of legal status and fear of facing deportation, they try to avoid government attention.
2.3.1 Social Support
Many researchers have suggested that children are able to increase their capacity to deal with aversive stressors through the use of social supports (Hayman, 2001; Sale, 2002; Hayman, 2002). There are several types of important support that individuals need in order to facilitate coping with and adapting to change. According to Hayman (2001) and Sale (2002), these are emotional, esteem, and instrumental/problem-focused support.
As Hilbourne (2006) explains, emotional support is defined as information parents provide to their children to indicate that they love and care for them. Esteem support is defined as information parents provide to their children to indicate they value them, and instrumental support is knowledge parents give to their children. Research by both Hilman (2006) and Kingman (1992) suggests that parents’ coping assistance is maintained into adolescence. These forms of support have been found to be necessary for enhancing the child’s well-being; however, in care children rarely receive these kinds of support
All young people must attain a large amount of knowledge to function self-sufficiently in society. For the majority of adolescents, learning life skills occurs both formally and informally over a period of years, normally within family (Mallon, 1998). In contrast, young people growing up in foster care or in institutional state care, are deprived of the advantage of a stable home environment and have a limited opportunity to learn life skills (Mallon, 1998; Hayman, 2002). For adolescents who have grown up in foster care or state care, relationships with birth parents are often nonexistent. Even when these relationships survive, the parents or adolescents are often unwilling to undergo the readjustments required by reunification. Hall and Montgomery (2000) cite from a range of empirical studies which suggest that less than half of the country’s in care youth could name an adult who they were certain would take them in and provide them with the requisite shelter and social and economic support following their release from care. The implications of the aforementioned are critical insofar as they evidence the near total absence of support systems for care leavers.
As may have been deduced from the above stated and as affirmed by McCarthy and Hagan (1992) and Wright (2000) many youth leave care without a strong positive connection with a caring adult; therefore, they have do not have a social support system. As children in care experience numerous transitions and disruptions, moving back and forth between institutional state care, shelters, and group care, they are less likely to trust adults and, indeed, may not have formed any lasting and constructive relationship with an adult figure (Heath, 1999; Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999). The consequences of the stated, as Shlay and Rossi (1992) found that care leavers confront substantial difficulties when renting an apartment with no parent to cosign a lease, finding money for a security deposit, and getting to work and school without transport money and, indeed, being able to provide nutrition for themselves (Shlay and Rossi, 1992). With no family to fall back on, care leavers confront countless challenges
2.3.2 Education and Employment
Studies show that the educational achievement level of care leavers is low. Several studies indicates that in care youth, or children who frequently moved from their home to institutional state care, were unlikely to complete their studies, were much more likely to fail in exams and hardly ever went beyond the O level certificate (Loveland, 1991; Hall and Montgomery, 2000). Added to that, both Shlay and Rossi (1992) and Hall (2003) found that over 50 of in care youth failed to earn their O levels and just over 10 were able to reach that level without repeating a grade. The implication here is that the majority of care leavers have not completed their education and enter the world without the requisite educational and job skills.
Legislature is an integral enabler of caring for youth and ensuring that the neglected and abused are provided with the requisite care, whether in a foster or state care setting.
2.4.1 The Homelessness Act 2002
The Homelessness Act 2002 may target women but in so doing, it effectively targets youth who are forced out of the home with their mothers as an immediate outcome of domestic violence. Indeed, in arguing the importance of this legislature as a solution to the phenomenon and problem of youth homelessness, researchers have argued its importance to stem from the fact that it targets groups most vulnerable to homelessness, female victims of domestic abuse and, by association, children (Crane and Warnes, 2003; Hall, 2003).
2.4.2 Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000
As Wade (2003) explains, the primary motivation of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 200 is the number of care leavers per year. Every year, between 7000-8000 children leave care in the United Kingdom and the greater majority have no familial connections nor, indeed, a constructive and trusting relationship with an adult. As such, a significant percentage of these numbers eventually joins the nation’s homeless population (Wade, 2003). Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 is a response to this and its importance emanates from the exigencies of preventing, or limiting, the aforementioned (Wade, 2003). Within the context of the stated, the purpose of the Children (Leaving Care) Act is to forestall the sudden transition from childhood to adulthood by demanding that children in care be taught the skills requisite for a smooth transition (Wade, 2003).
2.4.3 Child Care Act 1989
Part III of the Child Care Act, 1989, provides local authorities with the requisite powers to provide children in need with housing accommodations (Child Care Act, 1989; and Warnes, 2003; Hall, 2003). Children at risk, therefore, and as outlined in Part III of the Act, should be given such housing accommodations as would offset the identified risk and keep them off the streets.
The literature reviewed led to a number of conclusions. Primary amongst these is that educational services are fundamental components of successful social integration and will give care leavers the tools requisite for their staying off the streets. As Loveland (1991) , Ryan (2001) and Hall (2003) argue, education, insofar as it function to provide care leavers with marketable job skills, and gives them an understanding of the functioning of society and acceptable behaviours within, is essential to integration because it erodes, or narrows, the gap between this group and the community at large. Indeed, since differences and perceptions of dissimilarities lend to discrimination and marginalisation, ultimately negating and undermining integrative efforts and policies, education is a key integrator since it replaces differences with similarities and creates a common ground between care leavers/disadvantage and disaffected youth and their new society.
Similarly, mental healthcare services emerge as an equally important determinant of integration because, as several researchers have argued, cared-for or in-care youth have often been subjected to psychological abuse and trauma. Abuse and trauma, often a consequence of parental/caregiver abuse and/or neglect leads to mental healthcare problems which are only exacerbated when in care youth leave care to enter a society wherein they are isolated, discriminated against and virtually unable to survive (Loveland, 1991; Ryan, 2001; Hall, 2003).
As directly relates to legislature, the research reviewed three different Acts. The findings indicate that two of these Acts, the Child Care Act, 1989 and the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, proactively address the problem of youth homelessness. The third Act reviewed, the Homelessness Act, 2002, reactively grapples with the problem of homelessness. As noted, this Act primarily targets female victims of domestic abuse and outlines the imperatives of providing them with suitable housing accommodations to avoid their becoming homeless. In so doing, the Act also targets children insofar as the assumption is that they will leave the home with the mother.
Building upon the totality of the preceding, an important question comes to mind: how do service users perceive of, or evaluate, the current system? The system, as evidenced in the foregoing, is predicated on the assumption that the state owes a duty of care to all juveniles and should it be established that any juvenile is endangered by the conditions which prevail in his/her environment, the state is obliged to take them into care, protect and provide from them. The problem, as several studies have highlighted, is that the state is often incapable of fulfilling its duty of care. While it does take these youths into its care and protection, it does not provide them with the social support systems needed for healthy socio-psychological development and, importantly, does not afford them the life skills required for survival following release from care. This is amply evidenced in the fact that a significant percentage of in-care youth end up homeless. Within the context of the stated it is hardly surprising to discover several studies which highlight the dissatisfaction of the services users with the services in question (Miller et al., 1980; McMillen et al., 1997; Mallon, 1998; Commander, 2002). In-care youth, in other words, perceive of the system and the service it extends them as lacking and, therefore, largely responsible for their later inability to survive off the streets. Hence, service users are largely dissatisfied with the service in question.
Given the expressed dissatisfaction of service users with the social work service in question, it seems that the active involvement of service users becomes imperative to the achievement of service outcomes. According to Engel et al. (1998), service user involvement, referred to as “co-production” is an optimal approach to the assurance of service user satisfaction, as determined by better outcomes. Within the context of this approach, service users are understood as active subjects whose involvement and participation in the process of service delivery becomes an absolute necessity (Engel et al., 1998). As regards the problem of youth homelessness, the implication here is that a more satisfactory approach to the problem is not dependant upon the passage of legislature nor, indeed, the allocation and reallocation of resources but, on the embrace of the homeless as partners in the solution.
Social work researchers have emphasised the imperatives of managing the risks associated with a particular social problem for the purpose of achieving better outcomes, hence, service user satisfaction (Parton, 1998). The effective management of risks is predicated on the adoption of a service-user approach and on evaluating outcomes from the perspective of the service users themselves. This entails understanding the risks from the service users, or the affected population, and listening to their views on risk-aversion strategies, on the one hand, and on the service currently being offered, on the other (Parton, 1998; Sellick et al. 2002). At the moment, social work is characterised by the tendency to impose solutions upon service users, irrespective of their opinion. The consequence is that the solutions often transpire as non-solutions because they do not resolve the targeted problem and, hence, leave service users dissatisfied. In direct reference to the problem at hand, this means that the dissatisfaction of homeless youth with the service they receive is largely influenced by the fact that they are not regarded as partners in the solution but are expected to act as passive recipients of solutions imposed upon them. As they do not, and cannot, act as passive recipients, dissatisfaction is often the outcome. Within the context of the stated, the implication here is that social workers and homeless youth should work together towards the articulation and implementation of a solution to the homeless problem on a case-by-case basis. This is especially true considering that, as noted in the literature reviewed, there are multiple reasons for the problem and the solutions deployed must target the source of the homelessness problem confronting the youth/service user in question.
Proceeding from the above stated, it is apparent that the dissatisfaction of British homeless youth with the service in question is an outcome of the fact that their views and opinions are not embraced by the system and do not become part of the solution. As DeLeon (1998) argues, social work is a realm of service where unclear goal and minimal cause-effect knowledge produce an ineffectual and anarchic decision situation (DeLeon, 1998). It is ineffectual because without the embrace of service users’ views and a clear understanding of cause-effect, solutions do not effectively target the problem in question. It is anarchic because no single individual is held accountable for failure of service-ser dissatisfaction (DeLeon, 1998). Hence, it is necessary to embrace service users’ views and perspectives on the problem and, importantly, to introduce accountability into social work.
Based on the foregoing analysis, a set of recommendations have been formulated, all of which directly relate to the integration of care leavers into society and their endowment with the skills requisite for survival off the streets.
As recommended throughout the research, it is imperative to constructively utilise the educational services as media for integration and assimilation. Currently, in care youth are not receiving the education, either in terms of quality or content, necessary for their successful survival off the streets following emancipation. As it is, these youth are required to live on their own and independently support themselves earlier than their peers. This, in itself, limits their opportunities for successful survival off the streets especially that the majority do not have a social support system to which they can turn in times of crisis or difficulties. Were, however, these youth in possession of marketable job skills and were their educational level adequate, their chances for post-care success are invariably maximised. It is imperative, therefore, that the education of in-care youth be awarded greater attention.
Added to the above stated, it is further recommended that care leavers have access to a mental healthcare system. As noted in the research, a great majority of this population has been subjected to traumatic experiences. These experiences have left psychological scars. Re-entry into society often exacerbates the psychological problems which this group of youth suffers from. It is, therefore, imperative that the mental healthcare system function as both an ad and support for care leavers, and guide them through their psychological, mental, problems.
From a personal point of view, and as based on the literature read, the implementation of either of these two recommendations, preferably both, can aid in the resolution of the youth homelessness problem and can contribute to greater levels of service satisfaction amongst service users. Added to that, and of even greater importance, it is imperative that social work embrace the views and perspectives of social users and that service users be regarded as partners by social workers. The solution to the problem discussed is, from a personal perspective, dependant upon the implementation of the aforementioned recommendations.
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