There is a great desire both among academics [2-11] and our community-based collaborators to utilize network-based prevention programs to reduce risk taking among homeless youth. This interest is driven by the relatively low cost of these programs, coupled with an understanding that such programs might engage homeless youth who are transient, hidden and distrustful of adults. This represents an exciting convergence around the desirability and probable acceptability of network based prevention. What remains unclear is how and with whom to implement these programs.
RAND present fascinating results indicating that opinion leaders and popular peers are among those with whom youth are most likely to drink and use drugs. RAND recognize the complexity of recruiting substance using opinion leaders for interventions to reduce substance use, but suggest that these peers may still be appropriate people to train as peer leaders. We respectfully question this interpretation. It is entirely possible that these popular and respected peers are popular and respected because of their participation in risky behaviors. Being popular and respected often requires adhering to the norms and values of a network—in this case a network for whom risk-taking is normative. Thus, it is possible that asking youth to curb or abandon risk behaviors could compromise the popularity and respect they hold. As an illustrative example, Fig. 1 shows that substance-using youth are not only popular within egocentric networks of youth (as RAND have shown), but also occupy central positions within sociometric networks of homeless youth, lending further evidence to the hypothesis that risky behavior might be an important component of popularity for homeless youth. Given the often tenuous nature of social standing among homeless youth, we are wary of the practical efficacy of attempting to change norms that may confer status among this population.
Read more at: ht.ly/PpwYu HT @uscsocialwork