Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)
Purpose: This inter-disciplinary study was designed as a first step toward developing a more detailed understanding of the availability and effectiveness of services for homeless at at-risk youth and young adults from the perspective of these individuals and their service providers. In addition, giving workers the opportunity to voice their subjective assessments of homeless people and effectiveness of existing services engages those on the front lines and empowers them to advocate for and improve services.
Method: Clients aged 12 to 22 years and program staff completed study questionnaires and/or participated in focus groups consisting of five to seven participants. Questionnaires were designed to assess demographic information and ratings of program satisfaction and developmentally-relevant programming. Items were theoretically clustered into the following subscales: organization, rules, safety, adult and peer relationships, positive and negative influences, independence, and connections with family, school, and community systems. For the focus groups, focused or semi-structured interview questions were designed to elicit participant perceptions of youth needs, agency characteristics, and what is most and least helpful for youth in their experiences. Focus groups were transcribed and then coded for themes by the focus group co-facilitators.
Findings: A regression analyses revealed that developmentally-based program characteristics predicted program satisfaction. Participants rating agency staff as more supportive, helpful and caring were more likely to be satisfied with the program overall. Rule fairness, program safety, peer supportiveness and positive and negative influences were not significant predictors of satisfaction once staff supportiveness was accounted for. Analysis of focus group data supported quantitative findings; youth described several ways in which they felt supported or unsupported by staff, and ways in which staff relationships may mediate whether youth benefit from developmentally-based programming. For example, youth agreed over-controlling staff hamper opportunities for independence, while those staff “with a good ear” help youth feel comfortable discussing their difficulties and meeting their goals. For staff, themes of structure, responsibility and other good practices perceived as helpful to clients were also identified.
Practice and Policy Implications: Results of the current study suggest for high-risk and homeless youth, positive, supportive and caring staff are critical not only program participation and satisfaction, but also in facilitating positive development and transition into healthy adulthood. Implications for social work intervention, training and policies are discussed.