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Social Work Students Determine Homeless Youth Count Methods

| Monday, December 1, 2014

Seven Saint Mary’s seniors in professor Frances Kominkiewicz’s social work class will be assisting the Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County in its research  concerning the best possible way to determine the number of homeless youths in the South Bend area. The students are seeking out and contacting agencies who can provide information on youth, and in turn finding ways to better count homeless youth, Kominkiewicz said.

“If we are unable to effectively locate the homeless youth, we will be unable to determine their specific needs and then work at meeting those needs,” Kominkiewicz said. “This research has great importance to the community as well as nationally by finding the best practices to locate homeless youth.”

Students conducted qualitative interviews to learn more about the methods of local and national agencies for counting homeless youth, what services had been provided to the youth and what legal procedures were part of the process, senior Meghan Thornton said.

“The individuals and organizations/agencies were selected because they are indirectly or directly in contact with the homeless youth around the nation,” Thornton said. “They are the experts in this field. They all have one goal in mind and that is ending the homeless youth population.”

Senior Kelly Key said she and her classmates are aware of the fallibility of these research methods. Other agencies have run into problems conducting similar surveys, including double counting, trying to locate the homeless youth, volunteer bias and the length of the survey, Key said.

Thornton said working in tandem with the Youth Service Bureau will help her and her classmates determine how to find the best methods of research, as well benefit the growing homeless population in the surrounding community by raising awareness.

“Youth homelessness is a growing concern in the United States,” Thornton said. “… There are approximately 1.6-2 million homeless youth in the United States.”

Senior Kelly Crooks said she interviewed four of the 11 confidential informants and was responsible for writing literature reviews and researching lifestyles of homeless youth. The Saint Mary’s students also learned how to complete an IRB proposal and analyze data — valuable skills in the social work field, Crooks said.

“This process was extremely valuable for me,” Crooks said. “I think it prepared me well for what I will experience in graduate school.”

Research is one of the 10 competencies required for the social work major, Kominkiewicz said.

“We are teaching students social work research methods on a graduate basis since the research methods course can be used to meet graduate social work requirements,” Kominkiewicz said. “Students must be able to be producers and consumers of research. To most effectively achieve this, students need to actually have an opportunity to conduct community-based research.”

As a former member of the research committee at the Youth Service Bureau, Kominkiewicz said she recognizes the significance community-based research has in higher education.

“The Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County has served as a Social Work field practicum site for many years with Shotunus Peterson serving as the field instructor,” she said. ”Shotunus and the Youth Service Bureau have always worked with us, and have consistently been at the forefront of social work education.”

Key said the research began in November and its findings will be shared with the Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County in December.

“I hope that our research project will educate the South Bend community and that the community will become aware of this growing issue,” Key said. “I also hope that this will help promote Youth Service Bureau and all of their services that they provide for the community.

“The more information we have on counting and serving homeless youth, the better Youth Service Bureau will be able to serve them, thus bettering the community. We desire to publish this study to contribute to the greater research community, so more individuals and organizations can utilize this information.”

The Youth Service Bureau will be working with the SMC college community as well as other community resources to locate volunteers.

For information on how to volunteer at The Youth Service Bureau contact Christina McGovern at 574-235-9231 or [email protected]

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

Contact Kathryn