It is crucial to provide adequate support to parents whose children are experiencing homelessness. Previous research has shown that a staggering 89% of parents experience stress due to interpersonal problems when their child experiences homelessness. This stress often leads to feelings of parenting incompetency, social isolation, poor self-esteem, and symptoms of depression, all of which are magnified by the demanding nature of caregiving duties. Professional support is a valuable resource that can help alleviate this burden by offering guidance, resources, and access to essential services.

The Family and Natural Supports (FNS) intervention places great importance on having a dedicated worker who can provide support to the family members and natural supports in a young person’s network. Natural supports in this context refers to important adults youth have identified in their lives, adults who may be able to offer them support during critical times. The FNS approach aims to prevent youth homelessness by strengthening youths’ relationships with their parents and natural supports to help disrupt the cycle homelessness.

In this blog, we will explore this topic from the perspective of caregivers (parents and natural supports) who have participated in an FNS program through the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab.


We gained important insights from interviews with 12 caregivers (parents and natural supports) who participated in an FNS program. Their experiences highlighted how beneficial it was to them that FNS supports were not limited to the young person. This helped validate caregivers’ experiences, building a sense of importance within the young person’s support network.

We identified three key considerations for effectively supporting the young person’s network when implementing FNS: 1. caregiver support, 2. caregiver assurance, and 3. caregiver advocacy.

1. Caregiver Support: Educating and Providing Guidance on Parenting

During the interviews, caregivers expressed that their FNS workers provided them with resources and parenting tips to maintain healthy relationships with the young person. For example, families found that workers helped them develop and follow through with boundary setting. One caregiver said:

“[FNS Worker] has helped me build up the confidence to have boundaries and stick to them. My door locks at 10:00, if you are not home, you are finding your own place to go. Doing your own laundry. I would have never had the confidence to set those boundaries before, but now I do.” 

It was commonly voiced that receiving FNS workers’ assistance to establish boundaries when needed often alleviated interpersonal stress, leading to healthier and stronger relationships within families. Worker assistance that aims to educate and guide caregivers toward healthy behaviours can give them a sense of strength and promote positive behaviour outcomes for youths as well.

2. Caregiver Assurance: An Outlet for Emotional Support to Improve Self-Esteem

Caregivers also expressed the importance of having an FNS worker who would listen to their thoughts and concerns. Studies show that mothers whose children are experiencing homelessness report feeling incompetent in their parenting role and experience poor self-esteem and high levels of depression.    

As a result, it is critical to provide emotional support for caregivers when approaching the multi-faceted issue of youth homelessness. The caregivers involved in our study expressed that having a support person who understands the full complexity of their family dynamic had a positive impact. This support person was present to listen to their thoughts and feelings. In findings from a similar program, Family Reconnect, caregivers similarly noted that their support workers helped them work through “issues of loss, confusion, anger, frustration, acceptance, and other feelings associated with seeing one’s child leave the family home for a life on the street”.

Future research could further explore how addressing a caregiver’s perceptions of self-efficacy could lead to stronger and healthier outcomes in their relationship with the young person. We believe that these improvements may act as a safeguard by alleviating some of the burdens that come with the caregiver role, potentially reducing caregiver burnout.

“So we were assigned to a support worker […] and then she informed me that you know, she's here for me too, that changed everything, that opened things right up… I was starting to be able to talk to somebody and kind of debrief every few days without having to go back over the whole story. I was able to, you know, have little breaks from my grandson without worrying where he was, you know, somebody safe was with [him] in the household.” - FNS Participant

3. Caregiver Advocacy: Championing the Caregiver’s Voice

We also found that at times, the FNS worker was able to convey and validate the voice of the parent. Participants believed that having the message come from a third party greatly aided in getting messages across to the youth on behalf of the caregiver. The support workers’ ability to advocate for the caregivers and communicate their needs to the youth was found to be effective. 

“The worker was one step removed emotionally... if [the youth] was like getting agitated and wasn't listening to what we were saying, [the FNS worker] would be able to say to [the youth], ‘Hey, timeout, we are listening to what you're saying. You also have to listen to what your parents are saying.” - FNS Participant 

This quote demonstrates the benefits of having support worker present as a more “neutral” party.

Supporting Caregivers for Better Outcomes

The message is clear: adequately addressing youth homelessness must include individual support for their caregivers. This not only helps improve the family structure but leaves potential for shaping positive behaviour in the youths themselves. 

It is a heartbreaking reality that many families are confronted with the emotional burden associated with youth homelessness without adequate supports. High levels of stress are common among parents and caregivers who support youths experiencing homelessness, negatively affecting their relationships with them. For this reason, caregiver support is a crucial resource. It can help them learn healthier parenting habits, bolster their self-esteem, provide relief, and advocate for their needs as well.  

Our research shows that needs of the caregiver must also be prioritized. Doing so ensures that a young person’s support network can truly make a difference in preventing homelessness for youth.