National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families

Positive Developmental Relationships Are Essential for the Health and Well-Being of Homeless Youth

May 30, 2019 - 4:25pm

Healthy relationships with adults are an essential part of positive youth development. A supportive friendship or mentorship can give homeless youth the ability to take control of their lives. It can protect against some of the risk factors that threaten many homeless youth and can even ease the traumas that arise from life on the street. Positive relationships mitigate the ever-present dangers of abuse, exploitation, and trafficking.

They also promote protective factors. Positive relationships can help young people who have experienced trauma regain their self-efficacy, trust in others, and hope for a brighter future.
 
In light of these great benefits, professionals who work with homeless youth should try to forge healthy connections. The great news is many helpful resources are available to support this work.
 
Some focus on the “active ingredients” of developmental relationships. Researchers have tried to identify common active ingredients across varied settings, including orphanages, elementary school classrooms, and home visiting programs for at-risk youth.
 
RHY-serving professionals often play a dual role as caregivers and mentors. This requires flexibility in responding to the young person’s developmental needs. Trust and safety are central in relationships which are neither simply youth- or adult-driven. This can allow for what one researcher calls a “youth and adult partnership.”
 
The Homeless Youth Collaborative on Developmental Evaluation points to nine evidence-based principles to help youth overcome homelessness. It cites trusting youth-adult relationships as a cornerstone of this work.  
 
Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework presents a number of important aspects for positive relationships. These include Expressing Care, Challenging Growth, Providing Support, Sharing Power, and Expanding Possibilities. The framework also provides actions to take to promote these elements.
 
These are just a few resources to continue the essential work of building positive adult relationships for young people who have experienced homelessness. The research is clear that these relationships help young people become the best version of themselves. 
 
Photo collage of girls with volleyball coach, boy with mentor, and boy with teacher