All studies have found that young men were significantly over-represented in the young homeless population (by a factor of at least two to one). In Edinburgh, males were on average one year older, and were particularly over-represented among the long-term homeless (i.e. more than 12 months), as Craig and colleagues also found. Many adolescents do not run far from home (Abrahams and Munsall 1992). All but six per cent of the Edinburgh cohort had been born in Scotland. In the central London cohort more than half were born in the London area.
Most of the young homeless report deprived family backgrounds and in Edinburgh less than one in five of their biological parents were still living together. In Craig’s study 38 per cent of the group had experienced three or more changes in care arrangements before the age of 16 (mostly precipitated by parental separations). The single young homeless are characterised by poor educational experiences, for example, half in the Edinburgh study had left school before the statutory leaving date, only a sixth had any current occupational or educational involvement. The UMDS study reported similar findings. The problem of educational deprivation is highlighted in Chapter 11.
Most respondents left home following arguments, intimidation or assault, either ‘choosing’ to leave or else being thrown out. In the UMDS study, 84 per cent had witnessed moderate or marked parental discord on multiple occasions, whilst severe and persistent physical abuse was reported by a third (Craig et al. 1996). The extent of abuse is echoed in a Canadian investigation of runaway adolescents found to be victims of chronic extreme abuse, experienced at a young age and often perpetuated by the biological mother. Female runaways were at greater risk than males for all types of abuse experience (Janus et al. 1995). A quarter of Craig’s group described past sexual abuse, a history predictive of multiple risk behaviour in homeless youth (Rotheram-Borus et al. 1996). The dismal conclusion from this history of adversity is that for many homeless young people the situation they were living in whilst housed was the problem — homelessness may well be a solution (Tomas and Dittmar 1995).

Past residential care experience
In the British studies, up to half the single young homeless had social work ‘in care’ experience. The strength of this association has been the focus of two earlier studies of Canadian youth (Raychaba 1989) and in Manchester (Wiggans 1989). The care system appears to foster an over-reliance on others, where survival skills are acquired for group rather than independent living. Residents are frequently ill prepared for independent living with limited problem solving skills (Boulton 1993), poor access to education (Power et al. 1995) and the local authority support for care-leavers is often inadequate (Social Services Inspectorate 1997). There are often precipitous departures from unstable or chaotic residential units with disconnection of attachments. In the UMDS study, the ability to plan ahead was an important predictor of stable housing at the one year follow-up.
In spite of the extended requirements described in recent Children’s Act legislation, with the immense pressures on the care system there seems little likelihood of young people having much scope to correct mistakes by obtaining further social work support or re-entering residential care. Even allowing for increased investment for the over-16s, a major re-think of residential care aims for adolescents is required. This is likely to have considerable implications for staff training.


Wrate, R. and Blair, C.(1999) In Vostanis, P. and Cumella, S. (Eds.) Homeless Children. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp 86-87





























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