Homelessness among youth and the role of social workers

Limestone College Social Work

For most people, when they think of homelessness, an image of a middle-aged person comes to mind. Yet in the U.S., homelessness impacts a surprisingly large number of youth.

It is estimated that there are over 1.3 million young people — those who are 18 or younger — living on the streets at any given point and social workers play a critical role in helping them.

But what are the causes of homelessness among young people?

For some youth, it may have to do with family problems such as abuse, neglect or family’s or family member’s economic or mental health issues. For others, homelessness may be a result of transition from foster care and other public systems. For example, youth who age out of the foster care system, sometimes have limited support to transition into independence.

Youth who are homeless are more likely to experience physical abuse, sexual exploitation, or engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse or unprotected sex. As a result, it is estimated that 5,000 homeless youth die each year.

So what can be done to eradicate homelessness among youth?

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, authored a paper titled, “Ending Homelessness for Unaccompanied Minor Youth,” offering several conclusions about ways to improve solutions to youth homelessness problem:

  1. Prevention: Programs and overall support system that focuses on preventing youth homelessness by addressing underlying causes before they escalate. This includes supportive families, schools, caring adults and the child welfare system.
  1. Crisis and Early Intervention: Programs that provide support to youth who are newly unaccompanied. This includes shelters and other recourses to ensure no youth spends a night on the streets.
  1. Long Term Housing Services: Programs that provide support and resources for youth who cannot return home. This includes transitional housing but also programs that help youth develop independent living skills once they age out of the system.

At Limestone College, students who are earning a Bachelor of Social Work, will have an opportunity to learn more about homelessness and its underlying causes, affects, and prevention strategies. Through courses such as Social Welfare Programs and Policy or Social Work Intervention: Individuals, Families and Small Groups, students will learn about the social welfare system and the best practices for administering available resources to those in need, including homeless youth.


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