Abstract: Using Cross-sector Service Use Patterns to Explore Intra-group Differences among Sheltered Runaway Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12865 Using Cross-sector Service Use Patterns to Explore Intra-group Differences among Sheltered Runaway Youth

Friday, January 15, 2010: 10:00 AM
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer McClendon, MSW , Washington University in Saint Louis, Doctoral Candidate, St Louis, MO
Melissa Jonson-Reid, PhD , Washington University in Saint Louis, Associate Professor, St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: This study begins to examine the cross-sector service use of homeless youth, a critical lack in the existing knowledge base given the multiple service systems interacting with runaways. This study provides a unique opportunity to analyze longitudinal data with respect to youth homelessness, and explores the possibility of distinct profiles of sheltered youth, based on individual characteristics and service use patterns over time. Karen Staller suggests (2006) shelters have become a “dumping ground” for difficult-to-serve youth from other social service sectors. This study investigates that claim, and by doing so will inform our understanding of the resources necessary to provide effective services to this high-risk population.

Methods: The data used are part of a longitudinal study of service paths of at-risk youth in a large Midwestern metropolitan region. Emergency shelter status and collection of shelter file information was done by shelter staff reimbursed through grant funds. The final sample included 457 youth. The shelter users were predominantly African-American (83%), female (63%), with a history of child welfare involvement (91%). The average age at first shelter intake was 14.3 years. Approximately 20% of the youth were identified by staff as runaway and/or had been living on the street prior to intake.

Latent Class Analysis was used to determine whether distinct profiles of sheltered youth exist. In this study, the latent variable is group membership, and the distinct profiles or classes are mutually exclusive and exhaustive.

Results: The results of the LCA suggest that a four-class model provides the best fit and most utility. Each class was distinguishable from the others based on the prevalence of the 27 parameters (variables) entered into the analysis. Latent class probabilities were as follows: 0.33 for Class 1, 0.27 for Class 2, 0.16 for Class 3, and 0.25 for Class 4. Posterior probabilities fell between 94% and 100% for each of the four classes. The classes were most clearly differentiated by the parameters of school attendance and family connection. The four groups included: 1) an “emerging problems” group (n=109), younger and connected to school and family; 2) a group appearing to be “foster care placements” (n=153), connected to school but not to family; 3) a more traditional “runaway/throwaway” group (n=122) of youth connected to family but disconnected from school; and 4) a high-risk “multi-problem” group (n=73) of older youth disconnected from both family and school.

Conclusions and Implications: Runaway and Homeless Youth Shelters are designed to meet the temporary needs of youth who have estranged themselves from their families and avoided the foster care system. In contrast, these results from one metropolitan area suggest that residents are highly involved with multiple service sectors and with family. It appears that shelters often serve as a bridge between living with family and living in a foster care or residential placement. Shelters may require additional resources to 1) provide continuity of care among service providers from multiple sectors, and 2) provide an increased array of services to meet the varying needs of increasingly distressed youth.