Family planning among homeless youth: The role of social network norms and social support
Awarded 2016
Small Research Grants
Stephanie Begun, PhD, MSW
University of Denver

Objectives: Homeless youth demonstrate high pregnancy rates; such pregnancies are linked to myriad adverse health and life outcomes. Many homeless youth exhibit pregnancy-ambivalent attitudes, yet few research efforts have sought to understand potential influences on such attitude formation that may be found in youths’ complex social networks and surrounding social norms. There is also a dearth of evidence regarding homeless youths’ knowledge, attitudes, and experiences pertaining to other aspects of family planning, including contraceptives and abortion. Methods: The preliminary phase of this mixed-methods study quantitatively examined existing data collected from 1,046 homeless youth and their social networks, analyzing how perceived social norms regarding pregnancy, held by specific social network member types, are associated with homeless youths’ pregnancy attitudes. The second study phase collected qualitative data from interviews with 30 homeless youth, aged 18 to 21, and explored, in greater detail than past studies, homeless youths’ experiences, attitudes, and decision-making regarding abortion and contraception, investigating how social norms and social support influence such beliefs and behaviors. Results: Homeless youth do not appear to form their pregnancy attitudes in isolation, but rather, are influenced by their social network members, particularly street-based peers and serious intimate partners. Respondents mentioned numerous misperceptions pertaining to contraceptives and abortion, including cost, accessibility, and function/procedure. Youth also perceived high rates of dangerous self-induced abortion strategies as common in their networks. Conclusion: Findings from this two-phase mixed-methods study underline the dire need for culturally responsive, socially-contextualized pregnancy prevention and family planning outreach efforts for this uniquely vulnerable population.