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Family planning among homeless youth: the role of social network norms and social support

Stephanie Begun, University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work

Project abstract

Homeless youth demonstrate high pregnancy rates, and such pregnancies are linked to myriad adverse health and life outcomes. Many homeless youth exhibit pro-pregnancy or 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. Meanwhile, regardless of prior pregnancy intentions, some homeless youth obtain abortions in response to their pregnancies, some of which are self-induced and attempted via dangerous strategies. Extant research regarding pregnancy and family planning attitudes and decision-making among homeless youth is notably scarce. 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' pro-pregnancy and pregnancy-ambivalent attitudes. Models also explored how specific forms of social support, provided by different network members, are associated with homeless youths' pro-pregnancy attitudes. The second (proposed) study phase collects qualitative data from individual interviews with 40 homeless youth, ages 18 to 21, and builds on basic understanding of homeless youths' pregnancy attitudes and behaviors. This study phase explores, 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. Taken together, findings from this two-phase mixed-methods study aim to inform more culturally responsive, socially-contextualized pregnancy prevention and family planning outreach efforts for this uniquely vulnerable population.

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