ATLANTA—Data uncovered in a new Georgia State University study on youth homelessness and trafficking in metro Atlanta has implications for future research and possible interventions, especially when it comes to the role the child welfare system plays.
Nicholas Forge, a clinical associate professor in the School of Social Work, was a co-principal investigator and clinical field director for the Atlanta Youth Count 2018, which was led by Georgia State sociology professor Eric Wright and included Georgia State students on the research team. A follow-up to the 2015 Atlanta Youth Count, it was funded by the National Institute of Justice.
The 2018 study estimated there are 3,372 homeless and runaway youth ages 14-25 in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett and Cobb counties. Georgia’s total homeless population, estimated at more than 9,000, is 12th-highest in the U.S., according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Based on anonymous surveys and interviews of 564 youths conducted from September to November 2018, the Atlanta Youth Count researchers found 54.1 percent of metro Atlanta’s homeless youth experienced human trafficking in their lifetime, 36.7 percent while homeless.
Homeless minority and LGBTQ youth are particularly affected by human trafficking, the researchers discovered. They also found trafficking risks were higher for youth who had: been involved in the juvenile justice or foster care system; experienced childhood trauma; identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual; or had been homeless more than a year. Most vulnerable were transgender youth: 71 percent reported trafficking at some point in their lives.
“Homeless youth are considered an ‘invisible’ population and are underserved in our community,” said Forge. “Funding for agencies and social policy is increasingly data-driven, so it was important to offer service providers and policy makers the most representative data possible. The study also provided youth experiencing homelessness an opportunity to share their experiences through interviews, beyond a mere headcount.”
Forge and colleague Robin Hartinger-Saunders, an associate professor of social work, will continue to analyze the data to see how it might contribute to their ongoing research into the role of the child welfare system in relation to homelessness.
“Some studies suggest that almost half the children who leave the child welfare system experience homelessness, and LGBTQ youth have even greater risk factors,” said Forge. “This is important data we anticipate will contribute to our work in this area. We hope to share our findings with other agencies, and that they may lead to interventions with which we can assist.”
About 50 Georgia State students, including some from the Andrew Young School, played a key role in the research as volunteers. “The advantage of students conducting interviews was that the respondents felt more comfortable talking with them,” said Forge.
More trauma-based care and LGBTQ-sensitive support services should be provided these youth, according to the study. It also recommends community groups offer earlier intervention and housing opportunities to prevent exposing homeless youth to trafficking risks.
Story by Alison Tyrer
Clinical Associate Professor
School of Social Work
Dr. Nicholas Forge is Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University. His education includes bachelors and masters degrees in Sociology from Florida Atlantic University and a MSW from Georgia State University. He holds a PhD in Social Work from The Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University in New York City. The focus of Dr. Forge’s research is homelessness among sexual and gender expansive identified youth and young adults, particularly in the area of child welfare involvement, service provision and evidence-based practices
Department of Sociology
Eric R. Wright is a 2nd Century Initiative (2CI) Professor of Sociology and Public Health and Chair of the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. He holds a BA in sociology from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon and an MA and PhD in sociology from Indiana University Bloomington. As a medical sociologist, his research interests center on social and public policy responses to mental health and illness, substance use and addictions, sexual health, and HIV/STI prevention. In addition, Dr. Wright is actively involved in conducting research to understand and ameliorate health problems and disparities in minority and other vulnerable communities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people (LGBTQ).