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Listen, do you hear me? : homeless girls’ experiences with child protection services in a British Columbian semi-rural community DeLeenheer, Irene

Abstract

This qualitative study was conducted in 2003-2004 to explore homeless girls' experiences with social services, specifically child protection. The focal point of the study was the girls' initial contact with child protection services while in crisis, and the consequences of that interaction. However, exploring the context of the girls' lives was crucial to gaining in-depth understanding of homeless girls' needs. The fundamental questions addressed by this research were: What are homeless girls' perceptions of their needs, and what are the best ways to meet those needs? The grounded theory research was conducted from a feminist perspective and included individual in-depth interviews of five homeless girls ranging in age from thirteen to eighteen, who were living in a semirural area of British Columbia. The sample was located through local social workers employed in non-profit agencies outside of the government child welfare system (third party informants). These workers had a long-standing trust relationship with the girls, which had been established before the girls left home. The two main themes that emerged from the interview data were No Safe Place and Safe Place. Although they were desperate for help, these girls encountered a system that continued to leave them alarmingly 'at risk'. The girls found the system disbelieving, unresponsive, disempowering, inflexible, and traumatizing. The conclusion reached was that needs-based planning is essential, and that homeless girls must be involved in determining their own solutions in order for social services to be helpful. Despite their negative experiences, the girls wanted not only to help themselves, but also to "help other girls out there". And they retained many hopes for their own futures.

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