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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 22  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 21-26

Strengths perspective among the homeless adolescents: A systematic review

Medical Consultant-Urban TB, Catholic Health Association of India, Chhattisgarh, India

Date of Web Publication14-Jul-2017

Correspondence Address:
Janmejaya Samal
C/O – Mr. Bijaya Ketan Samal, At - Pansapalli, PO - Bangarada, Via - Gangapur, Ganjam - 761 123, Odisha
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jmhhb.jmhhb_3_17

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Background: Earlier, the scholars of family studies have primarily focused on the problems and weaknesses of the families. However, during these days, there is a shift from problems to strength-based perspective. Methodology: Search of literature was carried out through internet-based Google Scholar search engine. Of the 112 titles obtained 21 titles fit the criteria of the study objectives, of which 9 full-text articles were finally selected for the purpose of this review. Results: In this review, nine full-text articles were reviewed. Nine of these researches investigated different facets of strengths perspective among the homeless adolescents. Chronologically, nine of these reviewed studies delineated the following thematic facets of strengths perspective among the homeless adolescents. These include personal strength and informal resources, personal strength in high-risk environment, strengths perspective during the transition of adolescence to adulthood, personal and social strengths that refrained the homeless adolescents form intravenous drug use, resilience and self-esteem, religion as an important strength, “hope” as a way of living among the homeless adolescents, coping strategies of street-involved youth, and usage of internet and social media as an important strength among homeless adolescents. Conclusion: Strengths perspective helps the youth to become a master of their own lives and helps to deal with all the adversities in life.

Keywords: Coping strategy, family studies, resilience, street smart, street youth

How to cite this article:
Samal J. Strengths perspective among the homeless adolescents: A systematic review. J Mental Health Hum Behav 2017;22:21-6

How to cite this URL:
Samal J. Strengths perspective among the homeless adolescents: A systematic review. J Mental Health Hum Behav [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 26];22:21-6. Available from: https://www.jmhhb.org/text.asp?2017/22/1/21/210704

  Introduction Top

Earlier, the scholars of family studies have primarily focused on the problems and weaknesses of the families. However, during these days, there is a shift from problems to strength-based perspective. The strengths perspective focuses on interests, abilities, and potential rather than problems, deficits, and pathologies. This implies that instead of focusing on problems being faced it focuses on the strengths that individual, families, and communities have. This does not necessarily mean that the problems are ignored rather the approach begins with the existing strengths that individual, families, and communities have. The strength-based perspective focuses on skills and talents instead of deficiencies and needs. This is probably the biggest asset in strength-based perspective. This is simply because if individual, families, and communities see the deficiencies and problems within themselves, they cannot move ahead; however, if they see the skills and talents within themselves they can easily capitalize that and move ahead. This is something like wearing a strength-based spectacle and a weakness-based spectacle and getting the vision accordingly.[1] In strength-based approach, it is important to recognize that families come in many shapes, sizes, and forms. There is great diversity in families, but they all have strengths and capabilities. Furthermore, some of the traits are identified as important ones contributing to the strengths that families have; appreciation and affection, commitment, positive communication, enjoyable time together, spiritual well-being, and the ability to manage stress and crisis effectively.[2]

The strength-based practice has many applications in the field of family studies. The first and foremost principle of strengths perspective is that it does not stick to the problems and deficits rather focuses on the skills and talents, however, do not necessarily ignore the problems and pathologies. Again, it does not identify the individual as problem rather the complex interaction with the people, organizations, and the structures. This is how the strength-based perspective help individuals, families, and communities to grow, learn, and transform. It also allows the individuals, families, and communities to take their own decisions and empowers them to do so.[1]

A great deal of research is available on different aspects of homeless youth or the street youth which includes the assessment of both the physical and mental health crisis of homeless adolescents. However, the research in the realm of coping strategies, resilience, and strengths perspective among the street youth is very less. Street youth or the homeless youth is defined as the youth who have spent at least one night in youth or adult shelter, an improvised shelter such as an abandoned building, a public space, a subway or other underground locations, or on the streets or on the house of a stranger.[3]


The primary objective of this review was to understand the role of strength perspectives in different sociocultural settings with reference to the field of family studies. In this review, the role of strengths perspective has been understood among the homeless youth/adolescents.

  Methodology Top

Search of literature was carried out through internet-based Google Scholar search engine to obtain research papers in the said subject. The search was primarily carried out using the keywords “Strengths perspective,” “Adolescent,” and “Homeless.” A total of 112 articles were obtained by the end of this search process. Of the 112 titles obtained 21 titles fit the criteria of the study objectives, of which 9 full texts articles were finally selected for the purpose of this review. [Figure 1] shows the flow chart for the literature search strategy.
Figure 1: Flowchart showing the selection of articles for review

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Inclusion and exclusion criteria

The studies that fall under the category of inclusion criteria include those researches that have been carried out to understand the strengths perspective in different sociocultural contexts with reference to the field of family studies among the homeless adolescents. Articles published in English language only were included in the review. The studies that explore other perspectives except strengths perspective, coping strategies, and resilience were excluded from the review.

  Results Top

Of the 112 records obtained in the literature survey, 9 articles were finally selected for the review. The first study investigated the personal strengths and the informal resources that enabled homeless youth to survive on the streets.[4] The second article investigated the personal strengths of homeless adolescents living in a high-risk environment based on secondary qualitative data.[5] The third article focused on the transition of runaway adolescents' life into adulthood and the role of strengths perspective in this transition.[6] The fourth article unraveled the factors that helped the homeless youth to restrain from indulging in intravenous drug use (IDU).[7] The fifth article discovered that the homeless youth demonstrated a moderate level of resilience and high level of self-esteem.[8] The sixth study found that among different coping strategies, religion played a pivotal role among the homeless youth.[9] The seventh study explored “hope” as a way of living among the homeless adolescents.[10] The eighth study investigated the coping strategies of street-involved youth (SIY) using the “contexts of resilience” framework.[11] The ninth study investigated the role of internet and social media use among the homeless youth as a resource of living.[12] [Table 1] shows a brief account of the studies mentioned above.
Table 1: Studies on strengths perspective in relation to adolescents in different social settings

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  Discussion Top

In this literature review, nine different studies were reviewed to understand the role of strengths perspective in the lives of adolescents in different social and cultural settings after they run away from their families. These youth are compelled to rely on people whom they hardly know for their survival in the streets as they lose connectivity from their own families. Many a times, they are forced to pursue nontraditional resources and internal strengths to navigate life events often in unsafe and hazardous street environments.[4] The societal eye to look at the homeless street youth is different than that of the normal youth in the community. They have to struggle a lot to survive in the society. The homeless street youth need to be smart-”street smarts” to survive in the street. These youth get support from their senior street smarts that have spent substantial time in the streets to survive. Often little respect is given to those with limited street smartness or those who remain connected to traditional sources of support. Research reveals that gaining experience on the street significantly shapes these young people's behaviors and perceptions.[13] Furthermore, these young people depend on similarly situated peers for support, safety, and subsistence,[14] and these peers and associates often incorporate a social support system of youth who are also troubled.[14],[15]

Besides that, it was also observed among the adolescents who leave home prematurely that they emphasized learning as an important aspect for their survival which helps in their transition from adolescence to adulthood. They perceived that learning essential new attitudes and behaviors, especially pertaining to understanding and appreciating themselves and developing better interpersonal attitudes and skills, is a crucial factor in their success.[6] In addition, street youth also believed that certain attributes such as maturity, determination, and a sense of independence are more important for their survival and transition from adolescence to adulthood.

The attributes that were credited by the youth for their success may or may not have been learned during their struggling stage with the issues that resulted in their running away or becoming homeless. Some of these attributes, such as determination, independence, and maturity, may have been developed before the situation that resulted in the youth for leaving home. On the contrary, it is likely that these attributes were developed or further enhanced in that process. These attributes are certainly learned, irrespective of when they are learned. Thus, the social work intervention with runaway and homeless youth should facilitate development or enhancement of these characteristics.[6]

Another important factor for this transition is learning from failures and difficult situations. Research on homeless adolescents and street youth invariably focuses that the only way these youth made a transition in the street and survived in the street is learning from themselves and from their own problems they encountered. This is the most important concept in strengths perspective as it primarily focuses on interests, abilities, and potentials rather than problems, deficits, and pathologies. In this context, Rutter uses the term “steeling effects of stressors” to describe developmentally appropriate challenges that, when successfully met, prepare individuals to cope with future and more difficult challenges.[16] Thus, rather than seeing runaway and homeless youth as victims or impaired in some way, social workers can help young people identify such “steeling qualities” within themselves and recognize and develop the qualities that will be of benefit to them in the future.

The street youth or the homeless adolescents are more likely to get addicted with drugs compared to their housed counterparts or the adolescents who reside with their family members with all the family support.[17],[18] Given this situation in the streets, some homeless youth tries to find out ways and means to refrain themselves from IDU. Following factors have been indentified which helped the homeless adolescents to stay away from IDU; fear, self-worth, stigma, support and inclusion, family/friend drug use, responsibilities, and safe and engaging spaces.[7] The notion of fear, aversion to needles, and the concerns regarding the consequences of injecting refrained the homeless youth from IDU. Youth having a great degree of self-worth and aspirations for a better future also refrained themselves from IDU. Similarly, the stigma and the hardship of family and friends using IDU; the support of the family members and the responsibilities that this youth's shoulder made them abstaining from IDU.[7]

Despite all the hardship that the homeless adolescents face in their life, there are evidences of a strong sense of psychological resilience existing amidst such chaotic lifestyle.[19],[20] Homeless adolescents wanted to strive for a better life even with the stony road ahead in their life. These youth sometimes show a remarkable level of determination to move beyond their current situation using whatever strengths they possess. These youth focus and adhere to a positive attitude to move ahead in their life.[8]

In addition, other factors such as “maintaining continuity in a changed context” which implies embracing the changes during the course of life; adjusting with the new environment by learning and changing; adopting a positive outlook by embracing the positive aspects of the situation; and by suppressing the emotions and thoughts of present time which are often upsetting and seeking distraction sometimes heals the situation. Further acting independently and self-reliance helped these homeless youth to cope with their difficult situation and distrusting others around them sometimes helped them in coping with difficult situations.[9]

It has been observed that “hope” to survive and move ahead in life has been an important factor behind their coping strategy and resilience. One of the studies explored five thematic areas of hope; “connectedness” which refers to the perceived sense of meaningful link with friends, relatives, family members, and role models; “inner resources” refer to the internal strengths of these homeless youth that helps them to survive in difficult situations; “cognitive strategies” refer to the thought processes leading to a conscious transformation from perception to positive frame; “energy” refers to both physical and psychological strengths that help in accomplishing objective through action; “hope objects” refer to those inanimate objects that pose a significant meaning to the individuals.[10]

One of the studies has explored the resilience using “context of resilience framework” among the SIY and indentified three major thematic areas of youth resilience in difficult situation: social distancing, experiences of violence, and self-harm and suicidality. The term social distancing has got two opposite facets; one facet refer to staying away from youth from certain social groups or persons, and the other opposite facet refers to the development of anti-social coping mechanisms in the form of attitudes and outlooks on life such as a nondiscriminating and intense distrust of others due to hurtful experiences. As is said that “failure is the pillar of success,” similarly when the youth faces some degree of violence while they are homeless they develop some strategies to avoid violence in future learning from those situations. Sometimes, the youth fail to cope with the hard life during the period of homeless, thus they try to harm themselves and attempt suicide as matter of giving up everything; however, the same is a wrong step, and sometimes, these youth take the external help from social work organizations and agencies and move ahead in life.[11]

During the current days, it has been observed that youths are more motivated toward internet and social media. Usage of internet and social media among youth is almost a ubiquitous phenomenon in different parts of the world.[21],[22],[23] Usage of internet and social media has been an important coping strategy among the homeless adolescents. The homeless adolescents use internet for a host of activities which include sending and receiving E-mails and accessing social networking sites. The homeless youth also uses the internet to obtain information, fulfill recreation and entertainment needs, and to socialize.[11]

From the above researches, it is clearly evident that the homeless youth use a wide range of strategies to cope with the difficult and hard situation in the streets. It ranges from hope to suicidality and use of internet and social media. There are several practical implications to these researches. Researches support the use of strength-based and solution-focused therapeutic approaches for the homeless youth as these approaches focus on mobilizing the strengths and resources of the client instead of the weaknesses and deficits.[24],[25],[26],[27],[28],[29] Moreover, operating from a strengths-based model increases the inevitability that deficiencies are minimized and competencies are enhanced. On the contrary, simply focusing on their victimization may result in overlooking the resilience of these young people.[30]

  Conclusion Top

Understanding the strengths perspective by a family practitioner who deals with homeless youth is of paramount help in addressing their problems. Strengths perspective helps the youth to become a master of their own lives and helps to deal with all the adversities in life. The hallmark of strengths perspective is to identify inner strengths and capitalize that for solving the problems. Hence, the strengths perspective can help in mitigating the problems encountered by the adolescents who leave their home at an early age. As these adolescents leave their home and get disconnected from their home, the role of strengths perspective becomes very much important among them. Instead of blaming the youth for doing so, social workers can identify the inner strengths among them and the resources at their disposal to help them lead a productive life.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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  [Table 1]


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