This article assesses the quality of 15 primary studies that examined the effectiveness of youth foyer or foyer-like programs on the lives of young homeless people. The youth foyer model provides an integrated approach to tackling youth homelessness, connecting affordable accommodation to training and employment. In Australia, there is growing support from government for the development and funding of foyer programs. However to date, there has been very limited development and investment in the evidence base on the effectiveness of this model in Australia or internationally. Following an extensive literature search, we argue that there is a need to lift the standard of the evidence base of youth foyer effectiveness. We discuss two main issues: the difficulty studies had validating claims of foyer effectiveness, and limitations of research design and methodology. The implications of the lack of rigour in the research reviewed are three-fold. Firstly, youth foyer evaluation study quality could be improved by: clearer methodological and model documentation; post intervention follow-up design; comparison of data to non-randomised comparison groups; and a pre-publication peer-review process. This would be supported with clearer expectations from the research community regarding the production and assessment of grey literature. Secondly, while the standard of reporting needs to be raised, the ‘gold standard’ (i.e. randomised controlled trials) of research design in the scientific community is not a relevant benchmark in the field of homelessness research. This is due to the complexity of homelessness interventions and the inadequate funding of the homelessness research field. Greater investment in robust research and evaluation should accompany the substantial investment in youth foyer programs in order to accurately appraise the effectiveness of the youth foyer model. Thirdly, the lack of rigour in the studies reviewed suggests gaps in the service development of the youth foyers that were evaluated in the articles considered in this evidence review. The research reviewed was mostly unable to report key program mechanisms, pointing to a lack of program documentation. Ideally, strong service development practices would enable evaluative studies to explore the link between foyer model mechanisms and outcomes. Policy implications include putting in place a system for ensuring adequate program documentation with robust research design and methods, using a theoretical framework for the interpretation of findings, and adopting a peer-review process. To achieve this, public sector commissioners of youth foyers need to tighten the evaluation and research components when funding new foyers, recognising the critical relationship between service development and research.
Australia and New Zealand School of Government 2015