Peer Support in the Homeless Youth Context: Requirements, Design, and Outcomes

Peer support has a lengthy history in health and community services with particular prominence in areas such as addictions and mental health services. This growth in emphasis and evidence has not been mirrored in the area of youth peer support broadly nor peer support among homeless youth specifically. This situation has persisted despite the growing emphasis on youth lived experience engagement—including peer support. This paucity of literature framed the rationale for the present paper that provides a description of the structure, processes, and preliminary outcomes of an intentional peer support program delivered in the context of tertiary prevention of youth homelessness in a large Canadian urban setting. Pre-post findings for a cohort of 28 youth are reported in key mental health and community engagement domains and qualitative data from interviews with participants, peer supports, and staff are presented. These findings suggest that peer support would seem to be both a feasible and potentially impactful part of the repertoire of interventions from service to policy levels that are needed to address the complex and persistent global problem of youth homelessness. While promising, our work also suggests that peer support cannot be an afterthought-type element of programming but must be robust in process and structure to facilitate improvement for service recipients, the wellness of the peers, and the benefits for the team as a whole that results from effective peer engagement.

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Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal