The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Exploring Homeless Youths' Strengths: The Potential for Music-Based Services

Friday, January 18, 2013: 9:00 AM
Nautilus 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Brian L. Kelly, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose: Homeless youth research is primarily focused on the risks that contribute to youth experiencing homelessness and the consequences they experience as a result of being homeless.  Very little research explores homeless youths’ strengths.  In addition there is little research regarding the effectiveness of homeless youth services, including transitional living programs (TLP).  Some research shows that TLPs incorporate recreational activities in their programming, but little is known regarding their effectiveness.  Research indicates that social work and related fields use recreational, art, and music-based activities to engage youths’ strengths, yet little is known about how music-based activities are used with homeless youth and whether or not these activities would engage their strengths.  This paper responds to these gaps in the literature by exploring whether and the extent to which involvement in a music studio in a TLP engages and promotes homeless youths’ strengths.  Using an ethnographic approach with participant observation and semi-structured interviews as the methods of data collection, data were collected to explore agency youth experiences while engaging in the music studio, the meanings they attach to their experiences, and whether or not and the extent to which engagement in the music studio engages and promotes personal strengths.

Method: Over the course of seven months, eighty hours of participant observation were conducted with nine youth exploring their experiences in the music studio.  Fieldnotes were developed from observations and informed the development of semi-structured interview guides.  Seven youth and seven staff members were interviewed exploring youths’ experiences in the music studio and the meaning they attach to their experiences.  Fieldnotes and interview transcripts were analyzed using Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw’s iterative, recursive two-phase model of coding and memoing. In the first phase, data were read as an entire set and openly coded, noting initial memos.  In the second phase, themes were selected followed by more focused coding that was tied together with integrative memoing.  From these processes a thematic narrative was developed.  A second coder was utilized to code selected data in an effort to ensure data trustworthiness and authenticity.  Data were analyzed using NVivo software.    

Results: A thematic narrative emerged from data analysis.  Youth experience the studio as a space to develop musical skills, such as learning a new instrument and performance, as well as a space to hone existing technical skills, such as musical arrangement and software/hardware operation.  Youth also experience the space as a site for developing intrapersonal and interpersonal skills through collaboration and training with other youth and staff.  Through these processes, youth develop new and existing musical, technical, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills. In this sense, the studio engages and promotes youths’ strengths.

Implications: This study establishes a body of research that explores the use of music-based activities as a way to engage and promote homeless youths’ strengths.  This information can be used to advance program development and implementation in TLPs and other services for homeless youth.  In doing so, TLPs and other homeless youth services providers can begin to conceptualize services from a strengths perspective.