Other Youth Topics


  1. Youth Topics
  2. Physical and Reproductive Health

Physical and Reproductive Health

Runaway youth and youth affected by homelessness experience negative physical and reproductive health consequences as a result of their experiences and face a range of barriers in accessing health care. As a result, youth experiencing homelessness are less likely to have access to medical care.1


  • Youth experiencing homelessness face higher rates of chronic health problems than their peers, and lack of health care often results in more advanced stages of chronic health problems.2
  • Youth experiencing homelessness have a higher incidence of trauma-related injuries.3
  • Youth experiencing homelessness have more nutritional problems, including obesity and food deprivation and starvation due to limited accessibility to food and food with poor nutritional quality.4
  • Similar to adults experiencing homelessness, many youth affected by homelessness experience bad oral health as a result of poor nutrition and a lack of dental services.5
  • Studies of youth experiencing homelessness in families also primarily reported poorer health than other youth experiencing poverty and the general population.6

Teen Pregnancy

  • Youth may experience homelessness as a result of family conflict resulting from teen pregnancy.7
  • Teen mothers are at higher risk of experiencing homelessness than their peers8
  • Compared to women who become mothers at a later age, teen mothers are more likely to experience homelessness at a younger age.9
  • Teen mothers experiencing homelessness are often served by interventions targeted at families rather than youth.10
  • Compared to the national average of ten percent, 48 percent of street youth and 33 percent of shelter youth have been pregnant or have impregnated someone.11
  • Pregnant teens experiencing homelessness lack financial resources and adequate health care resulting in increased risk for low birth weight babies and high infant mortality.12
  • Teenage girls experiencing homelessness who are away from home for long periods of time, have dropped out of school, have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and/or feel abandoned by their family are at higher risk of getting pregnant.13
  • Research suggests that ten percent of shelter/street youth are currently pregnant.14
  • The higher rates of pregnancy may be the result of sex at an early age, survival sex, and/or inconsistent use of birth control.15
  • Youth with STDs are more likely to be pregnant than those without.16


  • Unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness have a higher risk of contracting STDs due to risky sexual behaviors, multiple partners, drug use, and inconsistent condom use.17
  • Runaway youth and youth experiencing homelessness are six to twelve times more likely to become infected with HIV than other youth.18


Runaway youth and youth experiencing homelessness face a range of barriers that make access to health care more difficult. Examples of these include

  • lack of transportation;
  • address requirements for paperwork;
  • lengthy processing time for paperwork;
  • lack of financial resources or health insurance;
  • lack awareness about where and how to access health care supports;
  • confidentiality issues;
  • a need for parental consent;
  • distrust of adults and professional agencies;
  • denial on the part of the youth of need for care; and
  • lack of coordinated services and outreach for youth experiencing homelessness.19

In addition, for many of these young people, health care may not be a priority over day-to-day survival issues.20

Federal programs and shelters can help to provide services to youth or connect them to appropriate services to ensure that they receive the health care supports that they need and prevent chronic health issues. Maternity group homes provide additional services for pregnant and parenting youth to educate them in taking care of a child. Learn more about the different types of federal programs. A range of prevention efforts have also focused on preventing HIV/AIDS and other STDs among youth experiencing homelessness and runaway youth. One example is Street Smart which you can learn more about on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.


Homelessness Resource Center: Homeless Populations
The Homelessness Resource Center, supported by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is an interactive community of providers, consumers, policymakers, researchers, and public agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. The Center shares state-of-the art knowledge and promising practices to prevent and end homelessness through the following:

  • Training and technical assistance
  • Publications and materials
  • On-line learning opportunities
  • Networking and collaboration

The Center includes a section focused specifically on youth.

Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center
This is a centralized national resource for Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) grantees funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau at HHS. Training and Technical Assistance Services are directed at assisting RHY grantees to engage in continuous quality improvement of their services and to build their capacity to effectively serve runaway youth and youth experiencing homelessness.

Primer on How to Use Medicaid to Assist Persons Who are Homeless to Access Medical, Behavioral Health, and Support Services
This document from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides information to help to connect people experiencing homelessness with critical Medicaid benefits.

Health Care for the Homeless
This site from the Health Resources and Services Administration provides data on the number of patients served and includes information on patients by age and gender. Of these grantees, over 102,000 youth under the age of 18 were served according to data updated in 2014.

Chapin Hall: Youth Experiencing Homelessness Who Are Pregnant or Parenting
This comprehensive and easy to read report from Chapin Hall discusses recent data and findings on youth experiencing homelessness while also pregnant or parenting. It addresses common causes, current challenges in serving this population, and provides recommendations for moving forward.


1 Shinn, et al. , 2008
2 Terry, Bendi, & Patel, 2010
3 Terry, Bendi, & Patel, 2010
4 Terry, Bendi, & Patel, 2010
5 HRSA, 2001
6 Samules, Shimm, & Buckner, 2010
7 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008
8 Greene and Ringwalt, 1998
9 Greene and Ringwalt, 1998
10 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008
11 Greene and Ringwalt, 1998
12 Thompson, Bender, Lewis, & Watkins, 2007; HRSA, 2001
13 Thompson, Bender, Lewis, & Watkins, 2007
14 Greene and Ringwalt, 1998; Solorio et al. 2006
15 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007
16 Thomson, Bender, Lewis, & Watkins, 2008
17 Noell, Rohde, Ochs, Yovanoff, Alter, Schmid, Bullard, & Black, 2001
18 Rotheram-Borus, Song, Gwadz, Lee, Van Rossem, & Kooperman, 2003
19 HRSA, 2001; Terry, Bendi, & Patel, 2010
20 HRSA, 2001; Terry, Bendi, & Patel, 2010

Other Resources on this Topic


Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).