System Youth: a Subgroup of Substance-Abusing Homeless Adolescents

Purpose: While many youths residing at homeless shelters will return home, many are placed in group or foster homes. Few researchers have examined the experiences of adolescents with a history of these out-of-home placements. This study examined shelter residents and compared the experiences of system and non-system youth.

Methods: Information regarding youths' family functioning, substance use, depression and related problem behaviors was obtained from substance abusing system (n = 62) and non-system (n = 82) adolescents staying at local runaway shelters.

Results: System males engaged in significantly more delinquent behaviors than did non-system males and system females. Alcohol and drug problem consequences were positively associated with longevity in the system, while having ever attempted suicide was negatively associated with system longevity. System youth reported: 1) taking more prescribed psychotropic medications 2) experiencing more sexual abuse, and 3) less parental overprotection, as compared to non-system youth. Gender differences were found in which females reported more conflictual problem solving interactions with their parents than did males, as well as more comorbid diagnoses.

Implications: Although longitudinal research is needed, findings argue that without intervention efforts targeted at identified problem behaviors, youth are at risk to continue their system involvement into adulthood. (Authors)

Publication Date: 
Journal Name: 
Journal of Substance Abuse
United States