A truly effective response to youth homelessness must consider the important role the family and community connections can play for any young person. The goal of a Family and Natural Supports (FNS) approach is to strengthen youth’s relationships with family as well as other natural supports including meaningful adults in their lives. What actually constitutes a “family” is variable, based on individual experience (growing up with grandparents, for instance) and cultural contexts and should be defined by the young person.
By supporting youth to mediate conflicts, strengthen and rebuild relationships, and nurture natural supports, they are better able to move forward with their lives, stay in school or access training and employment, and transition successfully into adulthood. Family and Natural Supports targets young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are at risk of or have experienced homelessness. This age range is consistent with the Canadian Definition of Youth Homelessness and is informed by the fact that 40% of young people in Canada who are currently homelessness had their first experience before the age of 16.
FNS work is based on the understanding that young people cannot – and should not have to – rely solely on professional supports to provide a sense of belonging and social inclusion. While the relationships that young people form with service professionals are no doubt transformative and may endure beyond a particular program or service, it is important that youth establish longterm connections in the community if they are to flourish in the wider world. Although done with the best of intentions, certain practices within emergency shelters, group homes, and other services can create patterns of dependency. Young people require opportunities to develop and practice the necessary skills of creating and maintaining healthy and positive relationships. Without these skills, young people may encounter challenges in their interpersonal relationships. Even when connecting to family is possible, consideration and effort needs to be given to ensuring that young people have other connections in the community.
Excerpt from Borato, M., Gaetz, S., and McMillan, L. (2020). Family and Natural Supports: A Program Framework. Toronto, ON: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.