Begun, S.., Weber, A., Spring, J., Arora, S., Frey, C., & Fortin, A. (2020). “This research is cool”: Engaging youth experiencing homelessness in research on reproductive and sexual health. Social Work in Public Health, 35(5), 271-281. doi: 10.1080/19371918.2020.1791296
The goal of this research was to challenge narratives that depict homeless youth as difficult to engage in programs and initiatives. There is also a lack of research examining the reproductive and sexual health of homeless youth and understanding their perspectives of their involvement in research.
- The homeless population has often been excluded from several services due to the commonly held belief that they are difficult to engage.
- Studies have shown that 30-60% of homeless women experience pregnancy and are less likely to attain reproductive health care compared to pregnant women who are housed.
- Contraception use is also low among homeless women who are sexually active, 40% of homeless women reported in previous studies that they did not use any contraceptives in the past year.
- Social capital examines the meaningful relationships that individuals have and looks into the resources that they attain by identifying within a social network.
- In order to improve the well-being of homeless youth, it is important to look into their access to judgement free reproductive and sexual health information, their interpersonal connections that help them through difficult health topics, and what they define as community in physical spaces.
- The phenomenological approach was utilized in this study to improve the overall understanding of the reproductive and sexual health choices of homeless youth.
- This approach is commonly used to attain a better conceptualization of research that has not been examined in-depth.
- Criterion sampling was used to recruit participants who were above 18 from a shelter in Denver, Colorado.
- The sample included 53.3% identified as women, 33.3% identified as men, and 13.3% identified as transgender, gender-fluid and gender non-conforming. 56.7% participants identified as racialized and 40% identified as non-heterosexual.
- A semi-structured interview guide was followed to understand homeless youths’ experiences with reproductive and sexual health, need for resources, and family planning.
- At the end of the interviews, open-ended questions were used to inquire whether the participants had any concluding thoughts or questions.
- The researchers asked the participants to fill out a survey that asked sociodemographic questions and questions related to their experience in foster care, length of homelessness and how many cities they resided in.
Several themes came up when participants were asked if they had any concluding thoughts or questions:
- a)“This research is cool”Youth discussed finding the research valuable and enjoyed sharing their experiences/views on reproductive and sexual health matters. They recognized the importance that this research has on transforming their day-today lives.
- b)“We definitely need more information”Participants were interested in learning more about reproductive and sexual health matters and expressed a need for disseminating information in this area. They discussed implementing trainings at the shelter with facilitators that are non-judgmental and content that would improve the knowledge that participants have on the topic.
- c) “I’d really like to read the things you find”The participants were interested in learning about the results for the project. They expressed a desire tostaying engaged by asking if they could help analyze the results or organize the findings, which provides insight to the meaningful impact that the research has had on their daily lives.
- d) “I actually have more options in my life than I realized”The youth in the study appreciated the respect and comfort that was given to them throughout the process.
- e) “We’re sort of forgotten”A majority ofyouth felt empowered during the process as their daily experiences of marginalization made them feel forgotten and ignored.
The researchers discussed a few limitations that are crucial to improve future studies in this area. A need for engaging youth who do not receive services from shelters, drop-in centers and various other service providers was highlighted to improve generalizability outcomes. Researchers also highlighted that recruitment efforts focused only on the homeless youth who were interested in topics related to reproductive and sexual health, the research should also have involved homeless youth not engaged in these topics. This would allow more homeless youth to co-lead the research and provide more insight to help improve reproductive and sexual health outcomes.
This study disrupts the notion of homeless youth being difficult to engage in programs and services. This study has created a pathway for future studies to develop creative research efforts that encourage homeless youth to become involved in research, specifically, research that has a goal of improving their overall well-being.