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JAMA Pediatr. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 July 05. Published in final edited form as: JAMA Pediatr. 2016 May 01; 170(5): 435–444. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0156.

Causes of Child and Youth Homelessness in Developed and Developing Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

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Lonnie Embleton, MPH, Hana Lee, PhD, Jayleen Gunn, PhD, David Ayuku, PhD, and Paula Braitstein, PhD Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Embleton); Department of Biostatistics, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (Lee); Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson (Gunn); Department of Behavioral Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya (Ayuku); Division of Epidemiology, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Braitstein); Department of Medicine, College of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya (Braitstein); Department of Epidemiology, Fairbanks School of Public Health, Indiana University, Indianapolis (Braitstein); Regenstrief Institute Inc, Indianapolis, Indiana (Braitstein)

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IMPORTANCE—A systematic compilation of children and youth’s reported reasons for street involvement is lacking. Without empirical data on these reasons, the policies developed or implemented to mitigate street involvement are not responsive to the needs of these children and youth.

Corresponding Author: Paula Braitstein, PhD, Division of Epidemiology, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, 155 College St, Toronto, ON M5T 3M7, Canada ([email protected]). Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported. Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication. Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institutes of Health, or the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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Author Contributions: Dr Braitstein and Ms Embleton had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Study concept and design: Embleton, Gunn, Ayuku, Braitstein. Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Embleton, Lee, Gunn. Drafting of the manuscript: Embleton, Lee, Gunn, Braitstein. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Embleton, Ayuku. Statistical analysis: Embleton, Lee. Obtained funding: Ayuku. Administrative, technical, or material support: Embleton, Gunn, Braitstein. Study supervision: Embleton, Ayuku. Additional Contributions: We thank Beth Rachlis, PhD, at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, Toronto, Canada, for assisting in data extraction and quality assessment as a third reviewer, Samuel Ayaya, MBChB, MMed, at the Department of Child Health and Paediatrics, Moi University, College of Health Sciences, Eldoret, Kenya, for his review of the manuscript, and Thomas Trikalinos, PhD, at the Department of Health Services, Policy and Practice, School of Public Health, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, for his expert advice. No compensation was received from a funding sponsor for such contributions.

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OBJECTIVE—To systematically analyze the self-reported reasons why children and youth around the world become street-involved and to analyze the available data by level of human development, geographic region, and sex. DATA SOURCES—Electronic searches of Scopus, PsychINFO, EMBASE, POPLINE, PubMed, ERIC, and the Social Sciences Citation Index were conducted from January 1, 1990, to the third week of July 2013. We searched the peer-reviewed literature for studies that reported quantitative reasons for street involvement. The following broad search strategy was used to search the databases: “street children” OR “street youth” OR “homeless youth” OR “homeless children” OR “runaway children” OR “runaway youth” or “homeless persons.”

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STUDY SELECTION—Studies were included if they met the following inclusion criteria: (1) participants were 24 years of age or younger, (2) participants met our definition of streetconnected children and youth, and (3) the quantitative reasons for street involvement were reported. We reviewed 318 full texts and identified 49 eligible studies. DATA EXTRACTION AND SYNTHESIS—Data were extracted by 2 independent reviewers. We fit logistic mixed-effects models to estimate the pooled prevalence of each reason and to estimate subgroup pooled prevalence by development level or geographic region. The metaanalysis was conducted from February to August 2015. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES—We created the following categories based on the reported reasons in the literature: poverty, abuse, family conflict, delinquency, psychosocial health, and other.

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RESULTS—In total, there were 13 559 participants from 24 countries, of which 21 represented developing countries. The most commonly reported reason for street involvement was poverty, with a pooled-prevalence estimate of 39% (95% CI, 29%–51%). Forty-seven studies included in this review reported family conflict as the reason for street involvement, with a pooled prevalence of 32% (95% CI, 26%–39%). Abuse was equally reported in developing and developed countries as the reason for street involvement, with a pooled prevalence of 26% (95% CI, 18%–35%). Delinquency was the least frequently cited reason overall, with a pooled prevalence of 10% (95% CI, 5%–20%). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE—The street-connected children and youth who provided reasons for their street involvement infrequently identified delinquent behaviors for their circumstances and highlighted the role of poverty as a driving factor. They require support and protection, and governments globally are called on to reduce the socioeconomic inequities that cause children and youth to turn to the streets in the first place, in all regions of the world.

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There are vast numbers of children and youth in the world who find themselves connected to the streets. Owing to the difficulties of counting and defining this very fluid population, no accurate estimates exist on the numbers of children and youth spending a portion or majority of their time on the streets; however, they are estimated to be in the tens to hundreds of millions.1 A variety of definitions have been put forth to define children and youth with street connections. Previously, the United Nations Children’s Fund broadly defined these children and youth as “[a]ny girl or boy who has not reached adulthood, for whom the street in the

JAMA Pediatr. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 July 05.

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widest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, and so on, has become his or her habitual abode and/or source of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, directed, and supervised by responsible adults.”1(p9) A further categorization placed these children living and working on the street into 3 categories: children of the street (those who spend both days and nights on the street with limited or no family contact), children on the street (those who spend a portion or majority of their time on the street while returning home to a family/guardian at night), and children from street families (children from families living on the streets).1 In very high-income settings, youth connected to the streets are typically defined by their residential instability and precarious living arrangements, and they are referred to as homeless youth, runaway youth, system youth, or throw away youth.2 Most recently, the term street-connected children and youth has been used to refer to those for whom the street is a central reference point—one that plays a significant role in their everyday life.1 While no clear definition encompasses the situations of all children and youth connected to the streets, it is important to understand that their circumstances are fluid and that the streets play a central role in their lives.3 It is also important to understand that children and youth connected to the streets are rights holders3,4 who often find themselves in situations that violate their basic human rights.1,4

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It is suspected that the dynamics driving this phenomenon (ie, street involvement of children and youth) are diverse and consist of complex pathways that vary between developed and developing countries, within geographic regions, by sex and age.1,3 However, the literature lacks any systematic compilation of children and youth’s reported reasons for street involvement, and there is an absence of consensus among academics, policy makers, stakeholders, and international organizations regarding these factors.1 Without empirical data on these reasons, policies are developed or implemented to mitigate street involvement without taking these causes into account. Often in resource-constrained settings, the prevailing paradigm assumes that children on the street are predominantly juvenile delinquents, and the government response is often characterized by social exclusion, criminalization, and oppression by police and civic authorities.5 Strategies frequently involve violent street sweeps conducted by police with children being placed in overcrowded detention centers or repatriated to unsafe care environments.6,7 Many of these children subsequently return to the streets. Resource-constrained settings typically lack well established child protection systems,3 resulting in weak policies to mitigate children’s street involvement. In developed regions, child protection systems may be better equipped and able to respond to street youth with policies, legislation, and programs coordinated by government and nongovernmental agencies; yet despite this, children and youth in developed regions continue to find themselves in street circumstances.

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Globally, street-connected children and youth have significant morbidity and mortality. 8–12 To develop effective evidenced based international and national policies aimed at preventing and mitigating the harms associated with street involvement, upholding children’s rights, and ameliorating the circumstances of the world’s most vulnerable children and youth, it is crucial to have rigorous evidence to comprehend this phenomenon. This review aims to systematically analyze the self-reported reasons why children and youth around the world become street-involved and to analyze the available data by level of human development, geographic region, and sex. JAMA Pediatr. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 July 05.

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Methods Operational Definitions Street-Connected Children and Youth—For the purposes of this review, the term street-connected children and youth refers to any child (

Causes of Child and Youth Homelessness in Developed and Developing Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.

A systematic compilation of children and youth's reported reasons for street involvement is lacking. Without empirical data on these reasons, the poli...
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