Reconnecting Homeless Youth with Their Families

written by Sharon McDonald
August 1, 2013

I want to share some takeaways from one of my favorite workshops of this year’s National Conference on Ending Homelessness: “Reconnecting Youth and Families: Family Intervention Strategies.”

In this workshop, speakers focused on what they view as an underutilized resource in addressing youth homelessness – their own families. Much of the discussion concerned the bonds that young people have with their families and their struggle to maintain them despite high levels of conflict. Not all homeless youth can be reunited with their families, but those who can should have the support and resources they need to do so successfully.

Two of the speakers were Sondra Marcon and Justin Sage-Passant, specialists with Eva’s Initiatives Family Reconnect Program in Toronto. The organization provides a range of services including individual and family counseling, group work, psychiatric assessments, mental health counseling, advocacy and referrals. The organization serves youth in homeless programs across Toronto.

During the discussion, they described parents who were often very grateful for help improving their relationship with their children, and they spoke about the interest young people have in reconnecting with their family. The services Marcon and Sage-Passant provide do not always result in the young person returning home, but they can improve family dynamics and make it more likely that young people who do not return home will receive from their parents the emotional and tangible supports that they need in order to transition to greater self-sufficiency.

The impact of their work with families is captured in the following excerpt from a case study profile, included in the Family Reconnect Toolkit:

Life with my teenage son was more than difficult in our love/hate relationship. He was in and out of the house, back and forth between shelters, and I believe that we had both begun to lose hope of every having any type of communication, other than to piss each other off! There was drug use on his part, addictive behavior displayed by both of us, and anxiety.

Over the last several months Sondra has taught me and my son to communicate with each other, how to recognize when an issue is not ours, and how not to take so much to heart. We have learned to see beyond the moment and look at the bigger picture. As with most things in life it has caused a ripple effect and put our home into a major transition (in a good way). I am very confident in our future success, knowing that Sondra continues to meet with my family on a waeekly basis and guide us during this new chapter in our lives.

We at the Alliance are excited about this pioneering work being done in Toronto to reunite homeless young people with their families. We look forward to future collaboration. In the meantime, there is a wealth of information and tools about the program model which communities can used to build their own local capacity to help young people reconnect with their families, including an evaluation of the program, an executive summary, and the toolkit (complete with a logic model) for homeless service programs to use as a guide to develop their own interventions.

I plan to cover the lessons from the other phenomenal speaker from this workshop, Caitlin Ryan, in an upcoming blog post. She has developed the Family Acceptance Project in San Francisco State University to help improve families’ understanding and support for their LGBT children.