Panel Paper: Risk and Protective Factors for Mental Health Challenges and Risk Behavior of Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Friday, November 9, 2018
8226 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Mary E. Haskett, Caitlyn R. Owens and Jenna M. Armstrong, North Carolina State University

Homeless youth are a vulnerable group of students who contend with a host of risk factors for mental health challenges. Indeed, many prior studies have shown that youth who experience a period of homelessness demonstrate mental health problems and formal diagnoses at higher rates than their housed peers. However, the vast majority of extant studies on youth homelessness have been based on samples drawn from youth living on the streets or in shelters. The link between youth homelessness and mental health functioning will be examined in this study using national population-representative 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data. Selection of the sample involved a two-stage cluster sample design to generate a representative sample of high school students in each participating state. Schools were selected with probability proportional to school district enrollment size and then representative classrooms were selected randomly. Based on the CDC requirement for an overall response rate of at least 60%, we will use data that meet criteria for using population weighted data. The weighting adjusts for non-response rates and for students’ grade, gender, and race/ethnicity. To determine housing status, participants were asked “During the past 12 months, where did you usually sleep at night?” The two responses categorized as Housed included “At home” and “In a foster home or group facility”. Homelessness was defined in accordance with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. We expect that students who report experiencing homelessness will report significantly higher rates of mental health concerns (e.g., thoughts of suicide, feeling sad and lonely, and attempting suicide) compared to housed youth. However, we anticipate that there will be wide individual differences in mental health functioning; based on prior studies of YRBS data in our state, we expect that approximately 25% will report symptoms of mental health concerns. Of most interest to us is understanding factors that moderate the link between homelessness and mental health status. This knowledge will help inform prevention and intervention efforts. In line with this goal we will examine the moderating role of victimization experiences, after school supervision, perceived teacher support, and involvement in substance use. Results will be discussed in terms of practice implications for education and mental health professionals, with particular focus on practices that schools can implement to promote well-being of high school students facing homelessness.