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Using cell phones to empower homeless youth

Peer Reviewed by Will Remigio


Article Title: Using cell phones for data collection: Benefits, outcomes, and intervention possibilities with homeless youth. Tyler, K. A., & Schmitz, R. M. (2017). Using cell phones for data collection: Benefits, outcomes, and intervention possibilities with homeless youth. Children and Youth Services Review, 76, 59. Retrieved from ProQuest

Research Purpose/Questions

This experiment sought to study how social workers can use #smartphone devices to reduce the environmental (#substanceuse) and personal risk (danger, lack of support) in homeless youth. Researchers (#socialworkers) demonstrated care for the youth and offered resources via text messaging (#SMS). Research questions: What did #youth like most about participating in the study? What might we do differently next time? How did youth use the cell phone?

Sample/ Audience

112 young people ages 16-22. Participants were all #homeless (runaway or lacking a home for a minimum of 24 hours).


Researchers were approved by the #IRB. Underage participants received a waiver under the IRB under the auspices of maturity and not having a guardian. Researchers conducted a four part interview. The initial part involved recruiting homeless youth at a shelter. Participating youth were given a smartphone with a service plan under conditions in which they comply to answer 11 questions over SMS every day for the during of 30 days, and attend every part of face-to-face interviews. Participants were compensated for each SMS response and interview attended. A network of collaborating #communityagencies provided services such as emergency shelter care, food programs, transitional living services, and street outreach in which researchers could refer to youth given their responses over SMS. The second, third, and fourth part of the study were #qualitative interviews where youth offered feedback to researchers in brainstorming group sessions. Feedback regarding the benefits of the study, ways to improve it, and collecting how youth used the smartphones.


The majority of homeless youth found a benefit in having the smartphone to communicate with friends, peers, and access resources. Additionally, the majority of youth reported positively to the periodic SMS messages (questions) they received. Many stated feeling cared for and valuable from receiving SMS messages from researchers. Some youth wished to keep the cell phone devices, however, overall youth reported little feedback for study improvements. Research indicated that homeless youth who own smartphones are more likely to leave homelessness because of connection to peers, supports, and information over the web. Homeless youth who own smartphones are less likely to use alcohol or drugs.

Strengths of Study

Large sample size. Quality peer review on the topic of homelessness and smartphone ownership and usage across the united states. Easy study to reproduce.

Limitations of Study

Although youth experienced economic and social benefits during the study, offering smartphones and service plan as post-study gifts could have strengthened the study and further improved the lives of participants.

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