Abstract: Exploring the Utility of Ecomaps for Practice and Research with Youth in High Crime, High Poverty Communities (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

516P Exploring the Utility of Ecomaps for Practice and Research with Youth in High Crime, High Poverty Communities

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Heather Watson, MSW, Doctoral Student, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Elizabeth Harris, BS, Research Assistant, Loyola University, Chicago
Katherine Tyson McCrea, PhD, Professor, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Maryse Richards, PhD, Professor, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL

Background and Purpose: Ecomaps have long been utilized asvisual depictions of social networks and social support (Crawford, Grant, & Crews, 2016), but there has been limited research on the use of ecomaps in research and practice with youth from high crime, high poverty communities of color. It seems reasonable that they could serve as useful tools to both researchers and practitioners. Ecomaps are heavily grounded in ecological and family systems theories, and are made especially meaningful for the researcher when they are created together with service staff, resulting in a visual representation of the individuals’ perception of the surrounding communities’ support systems and the quality of the connection between them (Nguyen, H., Grafsky, E., & Munoz, M., 2016). Eco-maps can help youth to identify existing and needed areas for social supports. Because they are pictorial, youth may experience them as more user-friendly and less intrusive than other forms of data gathering. Given ecomaps potential value, this qualitative study seeks to further examine the areas in which ecomaps can be useful to both researcher and youth.

Methods: 144 ecomaps were completed by youth (M= 16.82, SD=1.37) at the initial phase of the Saving Lives, Inspiring Youth, a Cross Age Peer Mentor Program located in high poverty and crime areas of the South and West Sides of Chicago. The sample is predominantly female (60.6% females; 39.4% males), Black (81.4% Black, 15.4% Hispanic/Latinx, .4% Native American, 2.8% Other/Multiracial), and 16% reported involvement with DCFS.    


An analysis of the data revealed that youth used the ecomaps to describe the quantity of their support networks, with whom they had significant relationships, and the quality of conflict, cut-off, and support they experienced in each relationship. They described family members, friends, and social groups such as police, and institutions such as school and church. The data suggest areas of significant loss (e.g. familial relationships, loss of friends/peers). The ecomaps also allowed researchers a promising tool for exploring the validity of the eco-maps in relation to a perceived nature of social support scale. 

Conclusions and Implications:

These findings highlight the value of utilizing ecomaps for practitioners, researchers and youth in high-poverty, high-crime communities of color. Additionally, ecomaps can aid in planning services to help youth in high crime, high poverty areas. Youth can use ecomaps to see where social support exists and where it is needed. Additionally, the maps clarify the existing strong community support features which may provide a better understanding of the perceived nature of support from a youth’s perspective.


Nguyen, H., Grafsky, E., & Munoz, M. (2016). The Use of Ecomaps to Explore Sexual and Gender Diversity in Couples. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 27(4), 308-314.

Crawford, M., Grant, N., & Crews, D. (2016). Relationships and Rap: Using Ecomaps to Explore the Stories of Youth Who Rap. British Journal of Social Work, 46(1), 239.