Introduction: Almost 2 million U.S. youth are estimated to live on the streets, in shelters, or in other types of temporary housing at some point each year. Both their age and living situations make them more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, particularly
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Almost 2 million U.S. youth are estimated to live on the streets, in shelters, or in other types of temporary housing at some point each year. Both their age and living situations make them more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, particularly during adolescence, a time of increased risk taking. Much of self-control appears related to the development of the prefrontal cortex, which is at a particularly crucial period of elaboration and refinement during adolescence and emerging adulthood. Executive processes like decision-making, inhibition, planning, and reasoning may be vulnerable to adversity experienced as a result of homelessness and related impoverishment during childhood and adolescence. No study to date, to our knowledge, has directly investigated differences in risk-taking by homeless youth as it relates to their developing executive control. Objective:
Examine the relationship between the level of self-reported executive function (EF) and engagement in risk taking behaviors among a sample of shelter-living urban homeless youth. We predicted that homeless youth who have lower levels of self-reported EF would more readily engage in risky behaviors that could lead to negative outcomes. Participants:
One hundred and forty-nine youths between 18 and 22 years of age were recruited from homeless agencies in Chicago. Of this study sample, 53% were female and 76% African American. Measures:
All participants completed, as part of a broader neuropsychological assessment, the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning-Adult Version (BRIEF-A), the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), and the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI). Analyses:
Groups were separated based on level of self-reported EF, with two groups identified: High self-reported EF fell >1 SD above the normative average, and low self-reported EF fell >1 SD below the normative average. All analyses utilized Chi-square and Mann-Whitney tests. Results and Conclusions:
Analyses revealed a relationship between the level of self-reported EF and risk taking behaviors in this group of sheltered homeless urban youths. Those with lower self-reported executive functioning had higher rates of engagement in multiple substance-related risk taking behaviors. These findings are important because they are a first step towards identifying contributions to risk-taking behavior in urban homeless youths. Identifying potential factors like low self-reported EF better allows us to potentially intervene, thereby providing focused support to youths who are at higher risk for engaging in problematic behaviors.