Various interventions exist to reduce the prevalence of youth homelessness. These interventions can be broadly categorized as prevention, emergency services, transitional housing or permanent supportive housing efforts. The Family and Natural Supports (FNS) intervention is a prevention intervention that aims to strengthen the relationship between youth and their chosen natural supports and/or family members.

This intervention is unique because, unlike other interventions that aim to address youth homelessness, FNS focuses on strengthening existing relationships and community ties to prevent youth homelessness. This program also has a strong focus on addressing the specific needs and circumstances of each young person. FNS provides a preventive and family-centred approach to reducing the prevalence of youth homelessness. It was designed to assist youth who are either at risk of homelessness or have already experienced homelessness. 

The FNS intervention is presently in operation at nine sites across Canada including sites in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Newfoundland. The services provided to youth differ at each site, including counselling support, crisis intervention, parenting support, and social activities. However, their collective objective remains the same. In this blog, we will discuss the experiences of youth, family members, and service providers who have participated in this intervention. 

Importance of evaluations

Developmental evaluations provide policymakers, service providers, and community leaders with data-driven insights into the effectiveness of different interventions. By analyzing the results of these evaluations, they can make informed decisions about which strategies to implement, scale up, or discontinue. The evaluation also helps these individuals to allocate resources. Typically, they are given programs with a proven track record of success.

Our primary aim of evaluating the Family and Natural Supports intervention was to explore the perspectives and experiences of youth, families, and service providers engaged in the program. We also explored the effectiveness of the FNS program in preventing youth homelessness and supporting the well-being and familial relationships of young people.

The evaluation used a mixed-method approach, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative research methods. During this phase of our evaluation, we engaged with over 100 youth participants and 51 family members or natural supports. These individuals also participated in the baseline survey. To gain a deeper understanding of their experiences, we conveniently selected youth and family members/natural supports from each site and conducted interviews after obtaining informed consent using Zoom. During these in-depth interviews, we asked participant to discuss their experiences within the program and gathered insights on how to improve the effectiveness of this program.

In addition to the perspectives of youth and their families/natural supports, we also gathered insights from the service providers involved in the FNS program. This ensured a well-rounded evaluation, encompassing the viewpoints of front-line staff and supervisors actively engaged in the program's implementation.

Findings from the evaluation

The majority of the youth interviewed as part of our evaluation expressed a positive overall experience with the Family and Natural Supports program. They highlighted the support and assistance provided by their case worker. For instance, one youth said:  

"Overall, it's been pretty well, I mean, my worker's been amazing with me. He's, anytime I need him, he's there right away…like it could be eight o'clock at night, and he's answering my text messages. He's incredible. I couldn't say anything better than that.". – Youth participant

Several participants highlighted the exceptional support they received from their workers, emphasizing their availability and responsiveness, which contributed to their positive experience with the program. 

"Well, I think, like, helping me not overreact when some small things happen because I usually overreact a lot, so she helped me not do that and just understand what happened and then how to, like, avoid it again, and how to cope with it." – Youth participant

Another recurring theme was relationship building as expressed by one of the participants: "They asked me if I want to connect with my family... they were always there to listen, give me advice, and help me move on... help build our relationship… They put us together, and we started talking through the relationship.”

During our evaluations, the family and chosen natural support people involved in the program shared their overwhelmingly positive experiences with FNS. One of the family members/natural support people rated the program a perfect "10" on a 1-10 scale, highlighting the incredible support they received. The feedback from another family member/natural support person emphasized the significance of personalized support, timely intervention, and the potential for preventing youth homelessness through programs like FNS. 

In terms of the support received through the program one family member/natural support person mentioned: “I think it's strengthened my relationship with [youth] because last year [they weren't] going to school...[staff in the program] really talked with [youth] and got [them] going back to school which makes me very proud.” 

The service providers also expressed positive feedback about the program. For example, one service provider emphasized the significance of having resources as part of the FNS program, including financial support for youth and family members and receiving training to enhance their skills.

Another service provider stressed the essential nature of ongoing training: "I firmly believe that there is a continuous need for additional training. One critical aspect in our field, especially in an emergency shelter environment, is the recurring high turnover of staff. It's imperative to reintroduce and re-educate our team periodically. For instance, having someone like [Program and Implementation Manager] join our staff meetings from time to time to formally present on FNS is a practice we haven't discussed yet, but I believe it would be highly beneficial. With new employees joining our team periodically, continuous training is a must." - Service Provider

Areas for improvement and recommendations:

The participants and service providers interviewed for our evaluation also highlighted areas of improvement. One of the primary areas that we have determined requires improvement is communication. We discovered that there were too many communication drop-offs and disruptions among workers, especially during staff absences due to illness, vacation, or staff shortages. 

"We haven't had a single meeting with the worker together. There has been a notable lack of communication from [staff member], and getting a response often takes several days due to youth emergencies. I believe if I reach out, they would make an effort to connect, but scheduling can be challenging." - Family member/natural support participant

It is essential to prioritize a resolution of these communication issues to provide the appropriate assistance to those who require it. 

Another recommendation we received was centred on increasing program awareness. Currently, youth and their family members/chosen natural supports gain entry into the program via referrals to our implementing partners, so there is an increased need for public awareness about the program through schools and social media. 

"I believe we should promote the program more effectively so that young people can become aware of it and participate. This way, they can access all the support they require." – Youth participant

The recommendations stemming from our evaluation of the FNS program are crucial for its sustained success. This evaluation provides a compelling case for the positive impact of the FNS intervention and can be used to inform future strategies and decision-making pertaining to youth homelessness prevention.


This post is part of our #CAEH23 blog series which highlights research on preventing and ending homelessness that is being presented at the 2023 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, November 8-10 in Halifax, NS. Learn more about the authors’ work through their presentation in the Preventing Youth Homelessness session on Wednesday, November 8th at 1:30 pm