Is A "Home" Better Than Being Homeless?

by bstre3 on March 13, 2014 - 10:16pm

Foster care attempts to create a loving environment for those without a home. However, these so called “homes” that parentless children are placed into are often unstable and potentially cause later trust issues within individuals after they age out of the system. Authors Angela L. Hudson and Karabi Nandy found interest in researching and comparing the differences of substance abuse, high-risk sexual behavior and depressive symptoms among homeless adolescents and young adults. They compared people from two different backgrounds: those who were homeless and had no history of being in the foster care system, and those who were homeless with a background of foster care. Their specific participant pool was consisted of 156 people and 44 of them had previous foster care backgrounds. Hudson and Nandy quote the National Alliance to end Homelessness that about 26,000 people age out of the foster care system in the United States every year, (Hudson A., Nandy K. 2012). This information was important to know as a statistic in their research. It shows the significant number of people who are in these systems and how so many people in our country are potentially at risk for developing harmful and dangerous habits. The 156 participants were recruited from a homeless site in Santa Monica, California for homeless young adults. The criterion for being considered homeless was living in a shelter, with friends, or on the streets. The criterion for being considered in this research study was being homeless and being between the ages of 15 and 25 (Hudson A., Nandy K. 2012). In order to obtain the necessary information from each participant, researchers used specific methods of data collection. They created a structured survey that asked age, ethnicity, gender, education and foster care history. Substance and alcohol use were measured by a TCU drug screener and history form, which records lifetime usage and the use of 16 different drugs within the past six months. They include cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, inhalants, hallucinogens and alcohol (Hudson A., Nandy K. 2012). In this study they also measured depressive symptoms of participants through the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Whether participants ever engaged in the trading of sex for money or drugs was also measured through survey (Hudson A., Nandy K. 2012). The statistics varied slightly for drug abuse depending on the substance. More participants with foster care histories had used cocaine compared to participants who did not have foster care backgrounds. According to Hudson and Nandy, 63.64% of participants who experienced foster care had used cocaine and 57.66% of participants who never experienced foster care had used cocaine (Hudson A., Nandy K. 2012).

            Every research experiment has a purpose. Both of the authors’ purposes of conducting this research study were to compare different negative affects of being homeless. They wanted to compare the differences between those who are homeless and have been in foster care previously in their lives and those who have never been in foster care. The key question Hudson and Nandy are addressing is whether being in the foster care system in the United States affects negative behaviors and leads to worse outcomes than if a person was not ever in the foster care system. Background information is important to this research study; however, the data collected for high-risk sexual behaviors, substance and alcohol abuse and depressive symptoms are the essential factors in this specific case study. From this study, researchers learned that previous foster care in fact does not prevent negative outcomes and sometimes causes worse outcomes for some people who experience it. For instance, it was found that 18.60% of participants who had previous history of foster care in this study had previously traded sex for money whereas only 11.71% of those who did not have a history with foster care had ever traded sex for money (Hudson A., Nandy K. 2012). Because there is hardly a difference between the statistics of homeless people who have foster care history and those who do not with regards to high-risk sexual behavior, substance and drug abuse, and depressive symptoms the authors of this article assume that there is a lack of outreach and support systems for those who age out of the foster care system. This assumption makes sense because if you look at the endless cycle of distrust foster children experience as they are passed from family to family. The false sense of security a child gains and has taken away can potentially impact the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the higher statistic of people with foster care backgrounds engaging in forms of prostitution does not surprise me because of the lack of stability these individuals have had their entire lives. Although both authors agree there is further research that can be conducted, they have certain implications about the subject (Paul R., Elder L. 2009. p. 11). They believe it would be beneficial to have certain programs and support systems for kids to experience in foster care before they leave foster care. 


Kudos to you, as well as the Researchers to which you were responding, for bringing attention to a population that is sorely deserving of our attention! I would caution you, however, not to presume that children in foster care are “parentless”; indeed, by definition: “Foster care is a partnership that provides safe and nurturing homes to children whose families are experiencing difficulties so severe that the children are removed from their homes. Foster care ensures the physical and emotional safety of the child. The primary goal of foster care is to reunify families” ( It is an unfortunate reality of our society that parental rights supercede the rights of the child; our country, the United States of America, is the only nation other than Somalia who has not yet ratified the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (Beuren). Thus, children are left to languish in temporary residences provided by caretakers who are cautioned against becoming too emotionally invested in their charges, since the whole point of the system is reunification with parents who were so ineffectual that their behavior prompted removal of their children in the first place. Because of that, I would suggest to you that attributing teen homelessness to “unstable” foster homes is inappropriate; this is a population of children who have been failed by their parents (.i.e. the progenitors' of the children's trust issues that you mentioned)), parents whose rights are systemically upheld while the children are left to while away their childhood in limbo until their parents are more able or the children age out of the maintenance that foster care provides. When such children turn 18 years old, is it any wonder that they may have difficulty functioning and navigating adult society when they have not received the supports and/or the nurturance necessary to develop the skill set required? (i.e that which well-tended children receive).
As you noted in your essay, “...there is hardly a difference between the statistics of homeless people who have foster care history and those who do not with regards to high-risk sexual behavior, substance and drug abuse, and depressive symptoms...” instead such behaviors and reactions are responses reflective of stressors that each young person has incurred. Making governmental supports available to children who “age out” of foster care is a no-brainer, but that is a band-aid upon the ills that have been already created. Instead, we need to expand our awareness to address the very factors which precipitate the aforementioned ills, doing all that we can as a society to support, model and mentor young parents and their children while in utero and beyond, before they ever grow into maladapted young adults. As a 20 y.o. woman of color who grew up in poverty in a single parent home, I grieve for my peers who are making poor choices and stumbling, many of them endowed with far more tangible supports that I myself ever enjoyed (i.e. they grew up in cushy upper- middle class families with both parents, as well as extended family, in their lives). The difference between them and me, as well as between me and my friends from even more challenging circumstances, is, I suspect, the bulwark and constancy of the commitment and investment my mother made for, and into, me. To expand upon that idea a bit further, it is not foster care per se that leads to youth homelessness, but, in actuality, it is inadequate parenting that may lead to foster care and/or youth homelessness.
That said, I found your essay, as well as the research you cited, to be very compelling. Unfortunately, the research sample was very small, encompassing only 156 homeless youth at one specific shelter located in Santa Monica, CA. Given that only 44 out of 156 youths self-reported foster care placement, that makes the statistics presented virtually insignificant on a global scale (e.g. 18% of those previously in foster care self-reported trading sex for money, but in reality that's only 8 youths, since the original sample only totaled 44 people). I would be very curious to see the results if the study were to be replicated at other similarly modeled youth outreach centers around the country. I wonder if the numbers would similar or different and what would account for them to be so (i.e does geography, climate, environment such as tourist destination, urban setting, legislative tolerance for homelessness, etc factor into the features of the population a particular facility attracts?). What do you think?!


Foster Care. (n.d.). Families First: For Children's Sake: Programs : Child & Youth Permanency :. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from
Beuren, G. V. (n.d.). International Treaty Law - - Protecting Children by
Empowering Parents . International Treaty Law - - Protecting Children by
Empowering ParentsÂ. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from
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