In collaboration with Youth in Transition Fredericton, PhD psychology student, Julie Wershler, and psychology professor, Scott Ronis, conducted a study that took an in-depth look at vulnerable and homeless male youth in Fredericton, NB. By getting creative and recruiting a broad spectrum of vulnerable youth, the research team found that there are many who are underrepresented but who would likely benefit from appropriate services in Fredericton and other similarly suburban communities across the country.
“A major challenge for any researcher looking to study vulnerable youth is identifying participants to study,” said Ms. Wershler. “Most studies recruit participants at homeless shelters or other service locations. We wanted to know about all vulnerable youth—including those who may not be living on the street and who may not be seeking services.”
Back in 2012, the research team hired three vulnerable youth as research assistants who helped recruit nearly 200 participants.
“Our research assistants knew where kids hung out when it was raining or cold. They knew best when to find the participants and made it a lot easier for us to tap into a group of vulnerable youth that is almost always overlooked,” said Ms. Wershler.
The research team refers to it as hidden homelessness. It includes youth who are couch surfing, or staying for long periods of time with friends.
Hidden homelessness makes it difficult to measure the prevalence of youth homelessness and the problems that are associated. This study was able to tap into the hidden homeless population and provide a more in-depth look at the state and needs of vulnerable male youth in the region.
Male youth are falling through the cracks
The findings of the study confirmed a belief that people who work with vulnerable youth have had for a long time.
The research team concluded that there are not enough services for vulnerable male youth and the patchwork of ones that do exist don’t necessarily meet their needs, causing this group to often fall through the cracks.
The study was conducted through a series of questionnaires and in-person interviews and found that these youth had unique, diverse needs, which makes a one-size-fits-all model a bad solution. Instead, a continuum of services that is individually tailored to the youth and integrated across a number of sectors was recommended.
“Vulnerable youth living at home may need family-based interventions to prevent homelessness, while others who have run away to escape factors such as abuse would require basic needs such as shelter, food and water,” said Ms. Wershler.
Sustainable funding model needed
The researchers say that funding structures for many of these services prevent them from reaching their full potential.
“Many agencies working with this population are dependant on short-term funding, which means perpetual changes to staffing and services,” said Dr. Ronis. “These kids have difficulty accessing services for a number of reasons, but without a sustainable funding model, accessing services becomes even more challenging.”
Dr. Ronis says more money is beneficial, but investing the current funding the right way is crucial.
“Making smarter investments into services for vulnerable or homeless youth would not only decrease the risk of chronic homelessness among this group, but would save government money in the long and perhaps even the short run through the justice system, healthcare, etcetera.”
The study was published in the Children and Youth Services Review in June 2015 and was funded by Employment & Social Development Canada, formerly known as Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.