Abstract: Exploring the Impact of Neighborhood and Development on Young Adults’ Experiences of Loss (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Exploring the Impact of Neighborhood and Development on Young Adults’ Experiences of Loss

Friday, January 13, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kalen Flynn, PhD, MSW, MSSP, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Sheila Yousuf-Abramson, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL

The purpose of this study is to examine the loss experiences of young adults. This study builds on the existing literature on grief and loss by examining the impacts of neighborhood on a meso level and exploring the critical developmental processes of young adults experiencing and navigating losses. This study explores various experiences of loss, examines the ways in which neighborhood contexts create, exacerbate or compound loss experiences and offers alternative perspectives on the ways in which young adults attempt to navigate, cope and find meaning after loss.


The current study draws from data collected during an exploratory study centered on young adults’ perceptions of neighborhood and experiences with violence. To investigate this, a multiple-case study approach, utilizing ethnographic, narrative, cartographic, and physiologic methods were utilized. Data collection took place over a one-year period, where the researcher (lead author) spent approximately one month with each participant. Methods of data collection included semi-structured and unstructured interviews, both sedentary and mobile, field observations in participants’ neighborhoods, and geo-located heart rate data over a four-day period. For the purpose of this study, data was utilized to create comprehensive case narratives that capture the experiences of loss for these young adults.


The most prominent losses discussed include person loss, place loss and intangible loss experiences. For the participants, the ways in which they navigated their loss included various strategies. The most salient themes that emerged were adultification or parentification of the young adult, focus on the future and prioritizing safety and protection. These themes were not only based on micro level influences of age and stage of development, relationships and home, but strategies were also significantly impacted by the environment and neighborhood contexts.


The experiences explored in this study showcase the complexities of grief and loss processes experienced by young adults living in urban settings. Feelings of safety and security were prioritized as a way to navigate losses and to mitigate additional experiences of loss. The participants’ need for safety aligned with their current behaviors and interactions within their neighborhood, but also influenced their plans and hopes for the future in creating meaning for themselves. Dreams and plans for the future provided a means of coping and escape from losses. Participants in this study were future focused but were unrealistic and impractical about their future goals and dreams given their current circumstances and environmental contexts where systemic issues and discrimination produced barriers for these young adults. It is important to foster meaning making strategies for young adults facing loss and acknowledge the importance of future planning as a means to navigate losses. This has implications for micro, meso and macro interventions that address systemic barriers and enhance opportunities and capacities for young adults, especially young adults of color.