Panel Paper: Risk and Resilience: Differences in Risk Factors and Health Outcomes between Homeless and Housed Students in 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Data

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katie Brown, Barbara Duffield and Patricia Julianelle, SchoolHouse Connection

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assess health risk behaviors among youth enrolled in high school. These risk behaviors include physical health and safety, mental health, substance use, and sexual health.

For the first time that the survey has been widely administered, the 2017 YRBS optional question list included two questions pertaining to homelessness. The detailed information collected by these questions reveals the variable experiences of homeless youth, who stay in homeless shelters, with others temporarily, and in other inadequate situations. The data expose the disproportionate health and mental health risks of youth experiencing homelessness.

Using national 2017 YRBS data both currently available and that are scheduled to be published this summer , the present study will conduct a qualitative and quantitative analysis of differences in self-reported risk factors and health outcomes between high school students experiencing homelessness and those who are housed. Specifically, we aim to answer:

1) According to the YRBS data, what risk factors are most strongly associated with the experience of youth homelessness?

2) What do the YRBS data tell us about the prevalence of homelessness among students in high school?

3) How do young people themselves perceive the risk factors that had the greatest impact on their ability to complete their education?

We plan to answer these questions by summarizing the unweighted frequency and weighted percentage of youth experiencing homelessness nationally as reflected in the YRBS data. We also will analyze the incidence of various risk factors reported by youth experiencing homelessness, comparing it to that of housed students.

We also will interview via telephone a representative selection of SchoolHouse Connection’s cohort of young leaders across the country about their experiences with homelessness and the risk factors identified in the YRBS questionnaire. We have long-standing relationships with these young people that permit us to conduct interviews with appropriate sensitivity. However, we will protect against the unfortunately common experience of retraumatization by choosing our interview questions with care and supporting the young people as they process any traumatic experiences.

Finally, we plan to draw from our analyses to offer policy and practice recommendations to improve outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness. Specifically, we plan to frame our recommendations around (1) best practices in implementing the protections and supports provided to homeless youth by federal law; (2) best practices in addressing highly prevalent risk factors; and (3) encouraging states and localities to include homelessness questions in their YRBS questionnaire to better inform policies and practices supporting youth experiencing homelessness.

Preliminary findings demonstrate that young people who experience homelessness engage in a wide variety of health risk factors at higher rates than their housed peers. Such youth have unequivocally worse health outcomes than housed young people, threatening their lives and jeopardizing their ability to finish school and transition to a stable adulthood. A cursory review of existing YRBS data also suggests that actual numbers of students experiencing homelessness are higher than other data sources indicate.