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Added 25 September 2023

Who is this document for?

This resource is for any frontline practitioner or manager working with young people under 25. It provides guidance and tools to help staff understand young people’s journeys and use this knowledge to deliver compassionate, developmentally informed support.

Why is it relevant? 

This resource presents information and guidance that is new to the homelessness sector, drawing existing knowledge from the homelessness sector and children’s social sector, and Homeless Link’s own research. It explores how brain development and the impact of trauma on the developing brain affect a young person’s needs and behaviour, and how practitioners can adapt their practice to be respectful of these needs and empower young people towards independence and out of homelessness.

This resource contextualises this information through an adultification lens. Adultification occurs when children and young people assume or are forced into adult-like roles prematurely and their perceived vulnerability is reduced.

What are the key takeaways? 

During adolescence and into young adulthood, the brain goes through a period of significant reorganisation. Young people accessing homelessness settings often have experiences of developmental trauma: early, repeated trauma and loss which happens within important relationships. This can affect brain development, and young people’s sense of safety in the world and impact their needs and behaviour.

In addition to this young people in homelessness settings have often experienced ‘adultification’: where they have had to take on adult-like roles, and their vulnerabilities have been overlooked. The experience of homelessness in itself can be seen as a process of adultification: young people’s transition into adulthood is accelerated and abrupt, and they are forced to assume roles and responsibilities, and a level of independence that their non-homeless peers usually don’t have to hold. The result is that they may not be offered the right support.

The impact of early/developmental trauma and the significant challenges young people face should not be understated, however, through working purposefully to provide the right support we can help young people to:

‘Redraw their inner maps and incorporate a sense of trust and confidence in the future” Van der Kolk

Integral to this is our ability to:

  • Adapt our practice quickly when a young person is dysregulated/in survival mode and support them to calm the storm. Experiences of complex trauma can mean young people perceive danger more readily meaning their survival brain flight, fight, freeze and flop responses, can be more easily triggered.

  • Commit to building relationships with the young people we support. This is integral to supporting their wellbeing, development and resilience: we need the experience of attuned social relationships to support brain development.

  • Use the lens of adultification to challenge our expectations of young people accessing services, our assumptions around maturity and responsibility, and whether they are correct.

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