What is Reunification and Diversion?
Family reconnection (and reunification) for homeless youth is an intervention that offers individual and family support for young people who become, or are at risk of becoming, homeless. It is a client-driven case-management approach that seeks to identify and nurture opportunities to strengthen relationships and resolve conflicts between young people who leave home and their caregivers. Working with youth who are interested in developing healthier relationships with their families; our partner organizations offer individual and family counselling.
Diversion is a strategy that prevents homelessness for people seeking shelter by helping them identify immediate alternative housing arrangements and, if necessary, connecting them with services and financial assistance to help them return to permanent housing. We will work with landlords in hopes of preventing youth from being evicted.
Is reunification always an option for youth experiencing homelessness?
There is no doubt that for many homeless youth, reconciling with families is not possible, nor would it be safe. One must consider that research identifies a sizeable percentage of homeless youth who experience family conflict and who do not come from abusive family backgrounds. There is extensive research that points to the fact that the majority of homeless youth come from homes where there were high levels of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, interpersonal violence and assault, parental neglect and exposure to domestic violence, etc.
Research also consistently tells us that a high percentage – between 40% and 50% – of young people who become homeless have had some involvement with child protection services, including foster care, group home placements and/or youth custodial centers. These aren’t young people leaving home for frivolous reasons. And for many of these youth, there are no homes to go back to.
Our reunification program
While it is unfortunately true that for many homeless youth, relations with family members are profoundly damaged and irredeemable. At the same time, this is not true for all young people who become homeless. Many leave home because of family conflict, but the conflict may not reflect abusive relations. In such cases, family mediation may help repair or lesson the conflict. In addition, even if one comes from a household characterized by abuse does not mean that there are no healthy or redeemable relations within the family, important social relations that may be helpful to the young person in question.
An effective strategy that supports homeless youth moving towards self-sufficiency must necessarily start with a focus on the needs and protection of the young person in question, but at the same time need not ignore the potential significance of family relations. In fact, any healthy self-sufficient adolescent or adult depends on others, including friends, co-workers, other adults and community members. For many, linkages with family will become part of this web of support, and self sufficiency may be achieved by reconnecting with relatives and potentially reconciling damaged relationships.
There is no single or set outcome expected from family reunification efforts. Young people may improve their relationships with family members to the point of being able to return home. For others, moving back home is not possible or advisable, but moving back to the community with the support of family members may be a realistic goal. For others still, there may be no significant improvement in relations with family, but young people may be helped to reconcile themselves to this fact, allowing them to move forward in their lives in a meaningful way.