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Lessons from Canada: Supporting Youth and Families Builds Community

A service provider in Toronto, Eva’s Initiatives provides an interesting model for thinking about homeless youth and their families that contrasts with the US perspective. In the US, the myth of the incorrigible youth fleeing home out of defiance for the family rules is still unfortunately pervasive, and as a result advocacy organizations and researchers must spend time defending them as having left home due to abuse and neglect from families who are unwilling or unable to support them. Eva’s Initiatives and other Canadian programs are working on challenging the notion that families of origin are a lost cause, and for good reason. According to a recent study of their Family Reconnect program,

“The work of the Family Reconnect program demonstrably improves relations between many young people who participate in the program, and family members. Even where relations have not been completely reconciled, there is often an increased understanding of the nature of family conflict that helps young people and families move forward with their lives. The housing and material circumstances of young people improve as a result of program involvement. With appropriate supports, many move off the streets, either back home or into independent living.”

In short, they note that 1. youth want a family connection, 2. families can offer long term support, 3. supporting youth and families builds community, and 4. prevention is integral to ending the cycle of youth homelessness. They also note that although many youth experience abuse, they still value the role of family in their lives. While family reunification is not a foreign concept to service providers, it is when it comes to our social welfare policies. If parents have the support needed to keep families intact, we can all better avoid the crisis of homelessness. For us at the Homeless Youth Project, these are important considerations as we move forward with state action steps to end youth homelessness.

For more information on Eva’s Initiatives or to download their family reconnect toolkit, visit: http://reconnecttoolkit.evasinitiatives.com/

Posted November 14, 2011