The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was first developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to assess the health risk behaviors of youth and adults in the United States. Since 2017, the YRBS optional question list has included two questions pertaining to homelessness. Researchers, educators, and advocates have used the data from these questions to guide their work, expose severely disproportionate health risks of high school students experiencing homelessness, and advocate for better policies and practices. This webpage seeks to compile YRBS research, practice and advocacy tools in one place, to provide convenient access to those who wish to understand what the YRBS reveals about students experiencing homelessness, and how to use this information in their own work.
New CDC Data Show Higher Health Risks for High School Students Experiencing Homelessness
On April 28th, 2023, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released data from the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which monitors health-related behaviors among students in grades 9–12 enrolled in U.S. public and private schools.
For the first time, the nationally representative 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey included an item assessing “housing stability,” or nighttime residence on its standard questionnaire. This question mirrors the McKinney-Vento Act’s education definition of homelessness, and includes youth staying with others because they had to leave their home or their parents or guardians could not afford housing, as well as those in shelters, hotels/motels, and unsheltered situations.
SchoolHouse Connection Research
- Broadly, our findings demonstrate that young people experience homelessness at an even higher rate than currently measured by the United States Department of Education. The YRBS indicates that 4.9% of students surveyed in the 17 states experienced homelessness at some point during the 2016-2017 school year, while public schools reported only 2.57% of their students as experiencing homelessness. The significant under-identification indicated by the YRBS means as many as one million students experiencing homelessness are not receiving the services that are their right under federal law.
- Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, “The Health and Well-Being of Homeless High School Students.” National Data App.
- Eric Rice, Anamika Barman-Adhikari, Harmony Rhoades, Hailey Winetrobe, Anthony Fulginiti, Roee Astor, Jorge Montoya, Aaron Plant, and Timothy Kordic, “Homelessness experiences, sexual orientation, and sexual risk taking among high school students in Los Angeles,” J Adolesc Health. 2013 Jun; 52(6):773-8.
- J.J. Cutuli, “Homelessness in High School: Population-Representative Rates of Self-Reported Homelessness, Resilience, and Risk in Philadelphia,” Social Work Research 42, no. 3 (September 2018): 159–168.
- J.M. Armstrong, C.R. Owens, and M.E. Haskett, “Mental Health of Homeless Youth: Moderation by Peer Victimization and Teacher Support,” Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 49, 681–687 (2018).
- Montana Office of Public Instruction, “2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey: Homeless Report,” August 2019.
- Staci Perlman, Joe Willard, Janette E. Herbers, J.J. Cutuli, and Karin M. Eyrich Garg, “Youth Homelessness: Prevalence and Mental Health Correlates,” Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research 5, no. 3 (Fall 2014): 361-377.
- The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was first developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to assess the health risk behaviors of youth and adults in the United States. For the first time since the survey has been widely administered, the 2017 YRBS optional question list included two questions pertaining to homelessness. SchoolHouse Connection analyzed demographic and risk factor data from the YRBS in 17 states[i], comparing high school students experiencing homelessness and those not experiencing homelessness. This series shares the striking and heartbreaking results of that analysis, with tangible action steps schools can take to promote safety and health for students experiencing homelessness.
- Part I: Prevalence, Identification, and Action Steps for Schools
- Part II: Racial and Ethnic Equity: Disproportionality and Action Steps for Schools
- Part III: Sexual Orientation Equity: Disproportionality and Action Steps for Schools
- Part IV: Vulnerability of Different Homeless Situations
- Part V: Missing School Due to Safety Concerns
- Part VI: Suicide
- Part VII: Bullying
- Part VIII: Dating Violence
- Part IX: Rape and Sexual Assault
Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness: What the Youth Risk Behavior Survey Teaches Us About Health Risks, and How Professionals Can Mitigate Them
- Join two SchoolHouse Connection Young Leaders to talk about specific strategies for social workers, family and youth service providers, high schools, colleges, and universities to support students experiencing homelessness. The webinar will share information from SHC’s analysis of Youth Risk Behavior Survey data, showing the prevalence of homelessness among high school students; racial and ethnic disparities; and health risks such as substance abuse, suicide, and physical and sexual violence. Then, two young people who have experienced homelessness will talk about how social workers, service providers, educators and others can help prevent and mitigate those health risk
Watch the recorded webinar
Download the Powerpoint
SchoolHouse Connection is very pleased to announce that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will include a question on homelessness in its 2021 standard high school questionnaire for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). This will make the YRBS the largest source of data on the extent of homelessness among high school students and the serious health risk factors youth experiencing homelessness face. We are very grateful to our partners at the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health for their collaboration in making homelessness questions part of the optional questionnaire in 2017 and 2019, and now in the transition to the standard questionnaire for 2021.
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