HFF September Community Meeting Notes: Engaging Young Parents

During Septembers Family Homelessness Community Meeting, we focused on engaging young parents in the family shelter system. Below are the notes:

As the state moves forward with its plans to reform the emergency family shelter system, homeless families with a head of household who is 21 or younger will be prioritized for placement into a congregate shelter setting until they move onto transitional or permanent housing.

These families will be required to complete an 8 month program, of which the details have not yet been sorted out.  In anticipation of the changes of the demographics of the congregate shelters as the population shifts, providers are anxious to learn more from those organizations that have been serving a similar population in the state’s Teen Living Program.

We were joined by Mike who opened the discussion with a talk about the reasons that young families become homeless, some that are similar to other homeless families and some that is unique to this population.  Those include, but are not limited to:

What are some of the differences between older and younger adults?

  • Communication skills – young parents may shut down communication, lacking the coping skills to resolve disputes.
  • Conflict resolution skills
    • One tip given by Mike is to practice with a young parent how they would have acted differently in a conflict with another individual. Then, practice the behavior that would have avoided or lessened the impact of the conflict.
  • Young parents are not necessarily “set in their ways,” so may be open to learning life skills that can lead to self sufficiency.
  • Young parents often seek instant gratification and should be encouraged to be patient with the process of attaining housing stability.


Drama – There is no way to avoid drama and rumors in a shelter or program, but they must be dealt with quickly. Providing a safe space for all individuals to tell their side of the story is important, and encouraging folks to use “I” statements is also helpful. For example, during an argument people tend to use “you” statements which elicit emotional responses and can escalate a situation:

  • You’re making me insecure.
  • You’re infuriating me.

“I” statements on the other hand are less threatening and can help both parties feel like they are heard and understood:

  • I’m insecure
  • I’m furious

Incentives – In working with young parents (and anyone), programs should always attach incentives to behavior. For instance, if a family is not cleaning their room frequently, a shelter could hold a weekly movie night with pizza or sandwiches for families that consistently completed their chores for the week.

Difficult topics – While these discussions may be difficult to approach, shelters and case workers should be speaking with young parents about having protected sex and the consequences of drug use and being caught with drugs.

Supervision – Staff meetings provide good opportunities for staff support, settling disputes between staff, learning from each other about what is working and not working, and discussing boundaries. Disputes between staff should always be discussed behind closed doors and never in front of parents. Likewise, front line workers should not share too much about their personal lives with clients. It is best to start with strict boundaries and then loosen them as appropriate. Staff should be used as a support in setting appropriate boundaries.

Self-care – It is important for front line staff to care of themselves in this work. People should get good rest and eat well. People should also leave work at work. Unless there is an emergency, issues can wait until tomorrow.

General Tips

  • Young parents are generally not good at saying thank you and please. Approach the work with an attitude that you want to create a nurturing environment and have an impact on their lives.
  • Let young families be an expert in something, ask them to share their knowledge, and learn from them, which can be very empowering for parents. Pop culture is a good example. Also ask questions even if you sometimes know the answer.
  • Be patient.  You may find that you sometimes have to have repeated conversations with young parents
  • Program rules/standards/guidelines need to be developed ahead of time and in conjunction with parents.
  • Seek for reasons to positive re-affirm young parents.  Notice an accomplishment and comment on it – about either the parent(s) or the child(ren).
  • Recognize that young parents need more boundaries than most others – they are extremely observant and tend to make more inquiries about your personal life.

To download a copy of the notes click here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s