The Resiliency of Street Children in Brazil

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study examined the relationship between social support and the ability of Brazilian adolescents to adapt to life on the streets. Participants included thirty male street children in Rio de Janeiro. These youths, and a comparison group, were 13 to 18 years old. It was hypothesized that street children with more social support would adapt better to life on the streets. It was also hypothesized that street children with higher quality support would adapt better. Findings indicated that neither quantity nor quality of social support was related to adaptation. The implications of these findings with regard to the resiliency of street children are discussed.

The study of street children has increased as a result of their growing numbers in many cities throughout the world (Blanc, 1994; Rizzini & Lusk, 1995; Shinn & Weitzman, 1990). Although this has helped to reveal the extent of the problem, a clear picture of the developmental implications of growing up as a street child has yet to emerge. The basic assumption is that street children suffer developmentally and socially. Molnar, Rath, and Klein (1990) have indicated that such children are indeed at risk.

Identification of factors within the environment that make one child more able to survive on the streets than another can be of great value. For example, social support has been suggested as a mitigator of the negative effects of stressful events in street children's lives (Campos et al., 1994; Tyler, Tyler, Echeverry, & Zea, 1991; Westhoff, Coulter, McDermott, & Holcomb, 1995). In a study by Westhoff et al. (1995), over 90% of the street children reported having good social support available to them. Tyler et al. (1991) reported that level of social support predicted the psychosocial attributes of street children. Thus, the presence of supportive social networks may bolster street children's resiliency.

The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship between social support and Brazilian adolescents' adaptation to life on the streets (defined as the ability to obtain food, to find shelter, and to grow normally). Specifically, it was hypothesized that street children with more social support (greater number of supportive persons) would adapt better to life on the streets. It was also hypothesized that street children with higher quality support would adapt better.

METHOD

Sample

The convenience sample included 30 male street children from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, ranging from 13 to 18 years old (mean age was 15.6). Participants were recruited from the streets, where they were either selling candies or watching cars to earn money, as well as drawn from three facilities designed to help street children. Two of these were day facilities, offering food and activities (e.g., art, athletics, television). The other facility provided each child with a bed and four meals a day. Thus, the sample ranged from adolescents who were living on the street full-time to those living in a facility. They also had different levels of contact with family: some had no contact, while others worked on the street to supplement family income and maintained at least some contact with parents or other relatives.

A comparison group--30 males of similar age to the street children--was selected from local schools. They had an average Measure 10.1 years of formal schooling, while the street children had 4.6 years.

Measures

An instrument measuring adaptation--Ability to Adapt to Life on the Streets (AALS)--was developed by the authors for this study. The AALS has three components: (a) ability to obtain food, (b) ability to find shelter, and (c) ability to grow normally. Scores on these three were summed to produce a total AALS score.

Ability to obtain food. The daily food intake of subjects, as well as the extent to which preference, cost, preparation, and storage influenced intake, was assessed. …