Research shows that youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness have better outcomes when their family and natural supports are engaged in their lives. In this blog, we will highlight the early learnings and outcomes from an evaluation of the Family and Natural Support program in selected sites.  

Youth Homelessness and the Role of Family and Natural Supports

It is well-known that many young people experience homelessness as a result of challenges and conflicts with their families. However, studies have shown that the presence of strong familial and social connections can significantly reduce the likelihood of a young person experiencing homelessness. Supportive family environments can also strengthen the resilience of young adults and protect them from circumstances that may expose them to homelessness. This is because the familial unit may offer a young person emotional and financial support which may also improve their individual outcomes such as academic achievement and necessary skills to secure employment – both of which are essential for securing and maintaining housing. 

In some cases, the family unit provides stability by offering guidance and mentorship, which can be useful in addressing mental health and substance abuse issues among youth. Existing literature has shown that family support is key to promoting positive outcomes among youth and is beneficial for preventing youth homelessness. Research also suggests that youth with stronger support systems are less likely to experience homelessness and more likely to recover quickly if exposed to factors leading to homelessness. 

Understanding the Impact of the Family and Natural Supports Approach

Since 2008, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) has been involved in evaluating the Family and Natural Supports (FNS) program, which was launched by the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab. FNS is a prevention-focused approach to addressing youth homelessness, which aims to strengthen a young person’s relationships with their family members and other meaningful adults in their lives. Young people are better able to transition into adulthood if they are equipped with the skills needed to appropriately resolve conflict and strengthen relationships. 

To highlight the impact of the FNS program on youth and families, the COH conducted a study asking youth and their families about their experiences with the FNS program. As part of this study, youth and their family members or chosen natural supports were asked to fill out two surveys: once at the beginning of their involvement in the program (a baseline survey), and, once at the end of their participation (a follow-up survey). The FNS case workers provided counselling and wraparound support services for youth and their families at select sites. These sites were: 

  • Grand Prairie
  • Lacombe (Red Deer)
  • Lethbridge
  • Medicine Hat
  • Peterborough
  • Red Cliff 

Study Results 

A total of 22 young adults and seven family members participated in the baseline survey. Due to the challenges with reaching participants, five young adults and four family members participated in the follow-up survey. About half of the young adults were in school and were not working at the time of the survey. Most (n=11) of the participants were also living with their biological parents and a few (n=4) of them lived in a shelter, emergency housing (n=4), or in the home of a friend or family member (n=3). About three-quarters of the young adults reported that they could count on their family members for support. 

Most of the youth reported that they have someone who shows them love and attention and makes them feel wanted, in addition to having tangible support (ex: someone who could take them to the doctor if needed or help them with meal preparations). On the other hand, many of them reported that they could not communicate their emotions with their family/natural supports (anger, sadness or depression) and could not accept compliments without feeling embarrassed.

We asked youth and their family/natural supports about the challenges they were having at home before the intervention. Some of the youth reported anger as a key challenge. There was a similar pattern in the responses from their family members and/or natural supports. For instance, one of the family members said: 

“My kids were fighting all the time to the point where things were getting violent. We've also been struggling with drastic moods which became very scary” 

Another stated: 

“We have a constant power struggle with my daughter. This has affected every member of our household in a negative way”

One of the youth respondents highlighted the communication gap between them and their family members: “mom is hard to talk to and there's too much going on” and this was confirmed by a family member of this participant who complained about not having enough time for their kids:

“I have young children that demand my time and attention. I can not spend very much one-one time with my daughter. She does not want to hear my opinion or be told what to do/not to do. We are very strong-willed”. 

Our findings showed that parents liked the FNS approach and were confident in the support that was available to them through their caseworkers. For instance, one of the participants mentioned: 

“I am not completely alone and can reach out for support and information when I need to” 

In regards to the delivery of the intervention, one of the youth mentioned that their FNS support worker helped to ease their pain. Another commented on the general delivery of the program: “The staff are so nice, the food is good, they were there when I needed [them] to [be]”

Although we could not connect with all of the study participants, the intervention was received positively by the youth and families/natural supports involved. 


Some of the challenges we encountered were:

  • Recruiting and engaging youth participants in the research to ensure that identified themes are represented and fully realize the different features of the themes. 
  • Reaching participants (young adults and their chosen family members and natural supports) after they had exited the program to complete the follow-up survey. 

After completing this study, it is clear that the Family and Natural Supports approach can be effective in preventing and ending youth homelessness. Having a strong network of supportive adults can help young people to navigate life's challenges and avoid the risk factors that contribute to homelessness, such as abuse, and experiences of violence. 

To learn more about the Family and Natural Supports approach to preventing and ending youth homelessness, download the full framework: Family and Natural Supports: A Framework to Enhance Young People’s Network of Support 

You can also check out the FNS resource collection on the Homelessness Learning Hub for tips and tutorials. 

If you have any questions regarding training and/or program implementation opportunities, feel free to contact us at