Paternal and Maternal Influences on Problem Behaviors Among Homeless and Runaway Youth

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Using an Attachment Theory conceptual framework, associations were investigated among positive paternal and maternal relationships, and recent problem behaviors among 501 currently homeless and runaway adolescents (253 males, 248 females). Homeless and runaway youth commonly exhibit problem behaviors such as substance use, various forms of delinquency and risky sex behaviors, and report more emotional distress than typical adolescents. Furthermore, attachments to their families are often strained. In structural equation models, positive paternal relationships significantly predicted less substance use and less criminal behavior, whereas maternal relationships did not have a significant effect on or association with either behavior. Positive maternal relationships predicted less survival sex behavior. Separate gender analyses indicated that among the females, a longer time away from home was significantly associated with a poorer paternal relationship, and more substance use and criminal behavior. Paternal relations, a neglected area of research and often not addressed in attachment theory, should be investigated further. Attachments, particularly to fathers, were protective against many deleterious behaviors. Building on relatively positive relations and attachments may foster family reunifications and beneficial outcomes for at-risk youth.

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