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Keywords:

  • Homeless youth;
  • natural mentor;
  • social support

Problem

Homeless youth experience high risks for poor mental health outcomes. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the characteristics of natural mentoring relationships among homeless youth and to identify possible mechanisms that can enhance social support for this population.

Methods

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 homeless youth aged 14–21 who had natural mentors. The interviews focused on how youth met their natural mentors, the function of these relationships, and how natural mentoring relationships differed from other relationships in the youth's social networks.

Findings

Main themes that emerged from the interviews included parental absence, natural mentors as surrogate parents, and social support from mentors.

Conclusions

Findings suggest that social supports provided by mentors enhance youth's adaptive functioning and may promote resilience, thus the use of natural mentors may be an important untapped asset in designing interventions to improve outcomes for homeless youth.