Unaccompanied Youth

Kaitlin and daughter at graduation

Unaccompanied homeless youth are young people experiencing homelessness who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. 1.6 to 1.7 million youth experience homelessness each year. The number of unaccompanied youth identified by public schools has increased by 21% over the past three years. At the same time, homelessness is associated with an 87% likelihood of dropping out of school.

Homelessness among unaccompanied youth is most commonly caused by severe family dysfunction, and exacerbated by poverty.  Family dysfunction includes abuse, conflict, and substance abuse.  Research shows that 20-40% of unaccompanied homeless youth were sexually abused in their homes, while 40-60% were abused physically. Family conflict over sexual orientation and gender identity plays a role in some youth’s homelessness, as an estimated one-third of unaccompanied homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Research also has found a clear linkbetween parental substance abuse and youth running away from home. Family homelessness also contributes to youth homelessness: a recent study of homeless and formerly homeless youth found that 47% experienced homelessness both with their family, and on their own.

Unaccompanied youth are at a much higher risk for labor and sex trafficking, assault and other forms of victimization than their housed peers. Most unaccompanied youth are unable to access safe housing or shelter, for a combination of reasons, including: being too young to consent for services without a parent; fear of child welfare involvement; and the lack of services overall: more than half of those who seek shelter cannot access it because shelters are full. The risks for unaccompanied youth also extend to many infants and toddlers, as research indicates as many as 20% of homeless youth become pregnant. Providing appropriate services to keep unaccompanied youth safe and secure permanent housing for them requires inter-agency collaboration and strategies that recognize the unique developmental needs and strengths of young people.

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