New Federal Framework Aims to Meet Long-term Needs of Homeless Youth

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness recently strengthened federal efforts to end homelessness for young people who are on their own. USICH, which is made up of the heads of 19 Federal departments and agencies, in September published an amendment to Opening Doors, the federal strategy to end youth homelessness by 2020, with specific steps for meeting the long-term needs of unaccompanied youth.

Central to the framework is the belief that homeless young people need the opportunity to heal, while gradually being empowered to succeed off the streets.

“Our reality is that the vast majority of the youth we serve are not like most people,” said Matthew Morton, who helped develop the new framework in his role as advisor to the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.  “They often come from backgrounds of extreme disadvantage and challenge. We need to be able to address the years of neglect or exposure to violence that has left them with overwhelming anger, fear, sadness or other trauma symptoms.”

The new framework calls for social services programs to screen homeless young people seeking services and assess the risks to their well-being as well as their personal strengths. Then, the youth would work with program staff to develop a plan to lower the risks and build on the strengths. The plan would include interventions or therapies shown to be effective and culturally appropriate. Programs would monitor how the youth is progressing and adjust the plan as needed.  

Morton says the framework marries an “evidence-based” approach to social work—in other words, using practices that have been researched and shown to work—with the personalized case management that marks the best runaway and homeless youth programs. That’s because ultimately, he says, the most important single factor in whether a young person thrives or not is "having at least one person that is absolutely crazy about them."

“The constant isolation that many young people have experienced has made them feel responsible for their own development. It makes it very difficult for them to let other people in, to let others support their development.  But those relationships are so essential,” says Morton.

“Trauma therapies are great, they help young people heal. But our programs, and the relationships they foster, have the ability to build on trauma therapies to help young people thrive.”

Read the amendment.