Youth Work: An Institutional Ethnography of Youth Homelessness

Youth Work: An Institutional Ethnography of Youth Homelessness

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By Naomi Nichols
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2014
World Rights
168 Pages
ISBN 9781442615557
Published Aug 2014
Online discount: 25%
 $24.95    $18.71
ISBN 9781442647435
Published Aug 2014
Online discount: 25%
 $65.00    $48.75
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442668188
Published Sep 2014
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Combining institutional ethnography and community-based research, Youth Work is a sophisticated examination of the troubling experiences of young people living outside the care of parents or guardians, as well as of the difficulties of the frontline workers who take responsibility for assisting them. Drawing from more than a year of on-site research at an Ontario youth emergency shelter, Naomi Nichols exposes the complicated institutional practices that govern both the lives of young people living in shelters and the workers who try to help them.

A troubling account of how a managerial focus on principles like “accountability” and “risk management” has failed to successfully coordinate and deliver services to vulnerable members of society, Youth Work shows how competitive funding processes, institutional mandates, and inter-organizational conflicts complicate the lives of the young people that they are supposed to help. Nichols’s book is essential reading for those involved in education, social services, mental health, and the justice system, as well as anyone with an interest in social justice.

Naomi Nichols is a postdoctoral fellow with the Canadian Homelessness Research Network in the Faculty of Education at York University and the principal investigator on a five-year SSHRC Insight grant studying schools, safety, and the urban neighbourhood.


1. The Research: Community-Based Institutional Ethnography

2. Getting Welfare

3. “Signing Out” of Care

4. Youth “At Risk”

5. The Institutional Coordination of Youth Work

6. Walking the Line: Research and Development Work with SYS




“The case studies in Youth Work present the reader with the complexities and nuances of bureaucratic worlds within social services, exploring an area that has had little academic attention.”

Jeff Karabanow, School of Social Work, Dalhousie University

Youth Work is a valuable contribution to the Canadian literature on homelessness and to institutional ethnographies in general. The book’s key insight is chilling: that the work of these institutions is organized in response to market-logic imperatives of ‘accountability’ and ‘risk management,’ not in response to young people’s immediate needs for food, shelter, safety, and care.”

Emily Paradis, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto

Youth Work offers distinctive new information on the intersection between vulnerable youth and the agencies to which they turn for help, or which try to manage their risky behaviour. Nichols’s data are in-depth and insightful, and she links her work extensively with other relevant institutional ethnographic studies focusing on social service delivery, public management, and policy studies.”

Sylvia Hale, Department of Sociology, St Thomas University

‘This work is a fantastic example of ethnographic research and is put together in a way that allows the research to tell a story. A story indeed worth telling.’

Chad Brown, The Journal of Youth Adolescence April 2015