Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Nowhere to Grow: Homeless and Runaway Adolescents and Their Families

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Nowhere to Grow: Homeless and Runaway Adolescents and Their Families

Article excerpt

Nowhere to Grow: Homeless and Runaway Adolescents and Their Families. Les B. Whitbeck & Dan R. Hoyt. New York: Aldine De Gruyter. 1999. 216 pp. ISBN 0-202-30584-8. $41.95 cloth, $23.95 paper.

In their book, Nowhere to Grow: Homeless and Runaway Adolescents and Their Families, Les Whitbeck and Dan Hoyt help the reader understand the complexities of society's "forgotten children." Drawing on their study of more than 600 runaway and homeless adolescents, the authors utilize extensive quantitative and rich qualitative data to tell the stories of these youth. What emerges is a detailed explanation of the process by which these adolescents move from their family of origin to institutional settings and gangs or city streets. As Whitbeck and Hoyt observe, "Homelessness for young people doesn't happen all at once. Rather, there is a process of marginalization created by forced early maturation" (p. 66).

It is this attention to "process" that is the book's strength. Divided into four parts (Society's Forgotten Children, The Family Lives of Runaway and Homeless Adolescents, Taking Chances: Adolescents on Their Own, and Nowhere to Grow: The Developmental Consequences of Running Away), the book uses a life-course developmental lens to frame and capture the developmental trajectories of these particular runaway and homeless youth. This lens views the process of development as a self-perpetuated series of events. When applied to the youth interviewed for this study, the chain of events leading to early independence originates within the families from which they leave. Multiple life transitions, such as frequent changes in caretakers and residences, prompt children to become independent change agents who attempt to gain more control over their lives by leaving home. The resulting life on the streets is one of survival as these teens turn to conventional (e.g., borrowing money) and deviant (e.g., dealing drugs) subsistence strategies and social networks of similarly troubled teens. Without the benefit of positive adult influence, supervision, and resources, these youth suffer critical developmental consequences from problems such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse.

Unlike previous studies, the use of a life course developmental approach to their work enables Whitbeck and Hoyt to "peel back the layers" of this social problem and give serious consideration to the developmental consequences of running away and homelessness. For example, although many of these youth suffer particular emotional or psychological problems attributable to experiences in their family of origin, it is their hard-luck life on the streets, over time, that exacerbates existing disorders or creates new ones. According to Whitbeck and Hoyt, an accurate assessment of runaway and homeless adolescents' mental health must include a distinction between those stressors associated with the youth's family of origin and those stemming from a vulnerable life on the streets. The result of this particular conceptualization is detailed information presented in the book about the many varied predictors of runaway and homeless youths' behavior. The authors argue that knowing the differences between the sources of mental health issues and their developmental progression ultimately will lead to better intervention and treatment strategies.

In addition to their unique conceptualization of mental health, this study has several exceptional design characteristics that distinguish it from other studies of similar populations. …

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