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Tyler, F. B., & Tyler, S. L. (1991). Making it on the streets of Bogota: A psychosocial study
of street youth.
Genetic, Social & General Psychology Monographs, 117(4), 397.
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ABSTRACT. In this study, we investigated the perceptions of the life situations,
psychosocial characteristics, and environments of 94 street youth in Bogota, Columbia.
We outlined
the implications of our results for developmental theory, psychosocial competence theory,
research, public policy formation, program development, and direct intervention.
MILLIONS OF HOMELESS CHILDREN in developed and developing countries have
responsibility for their own survival under harsh conditions. In doing so, they have acquired
patterns of conduct that have potentially helped them to develop into adults with something
to live for
and contribute to others. Nevertheless, developmental theorists, empirical investigators,
and the
agencies of organized society have provided few resources for investigating the
constructive and
resourceful aspects of their behavior. Discovering who these youth are and what they are
like may
not eliminate all the causes and consequences of their plight. However, it may serve to
unwarranted negative perceptions about them, redirect some of the negative treatment
they receive,
and lead to a better understanding of the developmental processes of all children as well
as how they
understand and cope with adversity.
Street children are not a new phenomenon, nor are they found only in Third World
countries. Victor
Hugo (1965) first used the term gamin to describe the children of Paris who lived on the
during the French Revolution. Ashby (1984) has provided an overview of the work of
reformers in the

United States from 1890 to 1917. In addition, recent attempts to describe and understand
children by Connolly (1983), Council on Scientific Affairs (1989), Felsman (1981), Gutierrez
Pineda, Perry de Munoz, Vila de Pineda, Echeverry, and Arias (1978), Kapadia and Pillai
Miller, Miller, Hoffman, and Duggan (1980), Munoz and Pachon (1980), Robinson (1989),
and others
tell us that street children are found in every major city in the world. They live by their wits;
they are
fiercely independent; and they often seem to have a devil-may-care attitude toward the
world. They
trust adults reluctantly, although they often honor a strong loyalty code to one another.
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There are differences between street children in developed and underdeveloped countries.
In the
Third World, fewer resources are available on the streets as well as in society at large.
There is
greater competition for survival. It is not illegal to be on the streets in many developing
These children do not have to see themselves as fugitives, so they may be less totally
dependent on
illegal activities for survival. The children on the streets in India and in Latin America are
reported to be boys (Felsman, 1981; Kapadia & Pillai, 1971). In contrast, Miller, et al.
reported that
56% of their North American sample of runaways were girls. In another North American
Brennan, Huizinga, and Elliott (1978) obtained data on a relatively large sample of 250
girls as well
as an equal number of boys. Overall, researchers have found that the proportion of girls on
streets is higher in the United States than in the Third World.
These U.S. studies have shown that, regardless of the children's reported reasons for
leaving home,
most of them left chaotic family situations that often involved abuse, alcoholism, and
Further, they had not found society's agencies to be particularly helpful. Miller et al. (1980)
that American runaways are treated like illegal aliens in their own land. More recent
(Robinson, 1989) have confirmed that the prevalence of street youth in the United States
has not
diminished and that the conditions defining the realities with which the youth must contend
persist in
society and in families.
The present study was conducted in Bogota, Colombia, which, like any other large modern
city, has
slums and victims. Societal conditions in Central and South America have continued to
generate the

pressures that force or lead the country's youth, along with their cultural as well as their
heritages, to the streets.
In the present study, we explored how street youth have taken control of their own lives
society's arrangements have failed them. We made the following assumptions:
Street youth are influenced by their individual experiences and by the broader context of
which they
are a part. Any framework used for organizing and understanding their experiences and
their reality
must incorporate both individual and ecological elements.
To be of value, findings must be relevant to an understanding of human behavior in
general as well
as to the conduct of particular individuals.
To assume that these youth are deficient or deviant and that others know how they should
see the
world and what is best for them would prejudge the study's outcome and would bias any
findings in
the direction of confirming those negative assumptions.
A resource collaborator approach (Tyler, Pargament, & Gatz, 1983) was used to provide a
means for
all of the research participants to contribute their different disciplinary perspectives and
backgrounds to the project. Tyler's psychosocial competence configuration served as the
framework for the study, as it identifies and relates strengths and resources as well as
limitations and
deficits to environmental conditions (Mondell & Tyler, 1981; Tyler, 1978, 1984; Tyler,
Moran, Gatz, &
Gease, 1982). This framework is based on the assumption that people participate actively
in their
own lives, that they have a sense of their own self-efficacy and worth, of the world around
them and
their relationship to it, and of ways of negotiating the events in their lives. Further, they act
relationship to the supports and threats in their environments. More psychosocially
competent people
will develop a positive sense of self-efficacy, a moderately optimistic sense of trust in
others, and a
more active, planful, mastery-oriented approach to the events in their lives to the extent
that their
environments are relatively stable, benign, and supportive. Alternative configurations, such
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distrustfulness and active defensiveness, will develop in an environment that is unstable
The current project began in 1982 while Forrest and Sandra Tyler were in Bogota in
conjunction with

Forrest Tyler's Senior Fulbright Lectureship award. Sandra Tyler participated as a
volunteer nurse in
an outreach program that provided medical assistance to children on the streets of Bogota.
street workers in the program requested the Tylers' assistance in providing a perspective
of the
children to counter public perceptions of them that emphasized their negative
characteristics. The
project extended from 1982 through 1987 and included a preliminary study (Tyler, Tyler, &
1985) and a subsequent cross-validation study.
In 1984, data were gathered on 75 street youth (Tyler, et al. 1985); and in 1985, data were
on 69 more. Most were boys (n = 129); a few were girls (n= 15). All were included in the
and cross-validation analyses, which established that the two samples were comparable.
hundred and one of them (94 boys and 7 girls) met the definition of a street youth; that is,
they were
all under 18 and claimed that the streets were their homes. The data from the 94 boys,
ranging in
age from 5 to 17, were analyzed further to provide a more comprehensive picture of street
youth. The
girls were not included because there were so few of them.
The Tylers and the street workers collaborated to develop a structured 2-hour interview
that would
enable street youth to provide personal perspectives on their lives. Open-ended questions
constructed to obtain information about their backgrounds, ways of surviving, wishes and
goals, fears
and frustrations, thoughts about themselves and their worlds, and strategies for organizing
their lives.
Also included were 5-point Likert scales to measure psychosocial variables (self-efficacy,
trust, and
active planfulness) as well as environmental variables (perceptions of personal and
physical supports
and threats). These variables were assessed separately for the following contexts: (a) at
home, (b) in
institutions, (c) on the street, and (d) in general (for the psychosocial variables only).
The interviews were conducted by individuals familiar with the youth and their lives whom
we felt the
youth were likely to trust. The workers, some of whom were former street youth, did the
They were trained in interviewing procedures by the Tylers in a series of five 3-hour
workshops that
emphasized the concepts being investigated as well as guidelines, procedures, and ethics

interviewing. Workshops included role playing as well as didactic presentations and
Interviewers were instructed to approach street youth in Bogota and ask for assistance in
this project.
The youth were to be told that the project's purposes were to document the nature of their
lives from
their own point of view and to get information as a basis for providing better programs for
Youth were also told that participation was voluntary, that all answers were confidential,
that they
could refuse to answer any questions, and that they could discontinue the interview
whenever they
Twelve experienced street workers associated with a private organization committed to
working with
street youth (Brotherhood of Divine Providence) volunteered to be interviewers. They were
Colombian, male, and ranged in age from 20 to 40 years old. In the end, 60% of the
interviews were
conducted by 2 workers who had previously been street youth. Three other workers
conducted 28%
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of the interviews, and the remaining 12% were conducted by the other 12 interviewers.
Inspection of
the interview protocols suggested that none of the workers were biased in types of youths
interviewed or patterns of response obtained.
Descriptive Data
The data collected by the interviewers revealed a number of similar identifying
characteristics in the
94 boys. For example, their average age was 13, and 72% had 2 or fewer than 2 years of
Sixty-two of them (74% of those who reported their birth order) were first- or second-born
though they reported an average of five children in their families.
Sixty-eight percent of their mothers were alive, slightly more than half (57%) of whom were
living in
the home with the child. Slightly over one half of the fathers were alive, about one fifth
(22%) of
whom were in the home. Sixty-two percent of the youth reported that someone had loved
Approximately one third or fewer reported that at home they liked the good treatment
protection (27%), work (27%), and comforts (15%).
These youth had been exposed to harshness and exploitation early in life. Thirty said that
no one had
ever loved them or that they didn't know whether anyone had. Nearly one half reported
that at home
they liked least the abuse, excessive discipline, family problems, or everything. Over two
reported leaving home for these reasons and because of parental death or poverty. One
fourth left

home because of boredom, peer pressure, or a search for adventure. On average, they
left home at
the age of B. One fourth reported having been sexually abused by the time they were 12
years old.
One fourth had been shot or stabbed. Although they reported their health as good, they
also reported
problems ranging from colds to skin and eye infections, lice, and sexually transmitted
On the streets, these youth sometimes survived by antisocial means; 36% acknowledged
stealing as
one of these means. They were also involved in activities that are prosocial, productive,
and caring.
Approximately one fourth said they survived by working, begging, and/or performing in
public. They
banded together in groups called galladas with an agreed-upon home (called a camada)
such as a
vacant lot or under a traffic bridge. They joined galladas primarily to seek help, to be with
friends or
siblings, and to share in the mutual respect between them and their peers.
Nearly two thirds reported that they had loved someone; 40% reported being responsible
someone else, and 30% reported that someone else was responsible for them. Further, a
portion had developed or retained a commendable prosocial orientation to society and to
each other.
They showed considerable evidence of wanting and creating meaningful, caring lives to
which they
contributed and in which they too were loved.
The ways they spent their time revealed that they were children and youth caught up in an
world. However, 61% reported that in their spare time they played games and would hang
37% went to movies; one third said they went to parks and/or talked to friends. On the
other hand,
over one half reported that they were part of sexually active groups; one half smoked; one
(27%) drank; 41% used drugs.
Thirty-two interviews took place in a detention institution or jail. Of the 55 youth who
presently or previously living in a variety of institutions, about two thirds had gone under
coercion; the
others went by choice for work, education, survival, or some prosocial purpose. In
responding to
questions about their experiences in institutions, they focused on constructive possibilities
more than
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complaints by a ratio of more than 4:1. They liked best having their basic needs met, being
and having a chance to work and study. They liked least the excessive discipline, violence,

abuse found in institutions. Twenty-eight reported leaving institutions because of bad
treatment or
unfilled promises. Only 6 had been expelled for fighting.
They were asked to name three wishes they would have if they could have anything they
The wishes were primarily for work, for money to be used for helping others, and for a
home. A few
said that they did not believe in dreams and refused to wish.
The structured interview included Likert scales (see Appendix) to measure the youths'
perceptions of
their psychosocial competence attributes in general and in their various environments: at
home, in
institutions, on the streets. Similar scales were included to measure their perceptions of
threats, and adult activities in their various environments. Forty-four of the boys responded
to the
more structured part of the interview. The relationships among these scale scores were
analyzed by
comparing characteristics within each setting and by analyzing the generality of these
across settings.
The first analyses concerned the psychometric properties of the scales themselves. The
number of
items, number of respondents, and alphas for the scales are reported in Table 1. The
configuration variables yielded at least moderately adequate reliability figures in the
specific contexts,
even though the number of respondents was limited (14 to 44) for each comparison. SelfWorld
ratings for home, institution, and street were based on responses from 14 to 16 boys. PSC
were a composite of the other scores in the Psychosocial Competence Scale. The general
were lower and tentative. The reliabilities of the environmental characteristics were more
adequate, except for the physical threats variable, which yielded a satisfactory alpha only
for the
street context.
Only 13 of the 44 boys who answered the total questionnaire had not been in institutions.
Perceptions of themselves in general and of their lives at home and on the streets were
separately for boys with institutional histories and those without. The analyses on which
there were
similar findings for both groups are reported for the total sample.
Psychosocial Competence Configurations
The psychosocial competence configuration variables were intercorrelated in each of the
contexts measured. As seen in Table 2, in each context the boys who were more actively

(behavioral attributes) were also more trusting (self-world) and had a more positive sense
of their
own worth and control of their lives. That pattern was strongest between self-efficacy and
trust, and
held for self-efficacy and active planfulness, except on the streets.
In contrast, the relationship between trust and active planfulness was significant only in
Further, in the boys' general ratings, only self-efficacy and active planfulness revealed a
relationship. Thus, these correlations support the hypothesis that, for these boys, an
psychosocial competence configuration existed in general and in each of these contexts.
Further, it
was more pronounced in institutional situations and at home, contexts that might be
expected to
provide more predictable environments, particularly in light of the boys, reports of their
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Correlations across situations (home, institutions, streets) were also computed for these
psychosocial variables. None of the cross-situational correlations for self-efficacy, selfworld, or
behavioral attributes were statistically significant. These correlations were computed
separately for
boys who had been in institutions and for those who had not. Findings indicated that
among boys
who had not been in institutions, home and street correlations occurred for self-efficacy (r
= .52, p <
.05) and self-world (r = .51, p < .05), and a near-significant correlation occurred for
attributes (r = .41, p < .10) ratings. That is, the boys who had been in institutions judged
psychosocial selves to be distinct in these different contexts. The boys who had not been
institutions judged their psychosocial selves to be somewhat interrelated at home and on
the streets.
Environmental Context Configurations
The boys also rated the nature of their environments in terms of perceived supports and
threats. The
intercorrelations among the supports and threats in each context are reported in Table 3.
Ratings of
institutions yielded the clearest evidence of distinctive patterns; all the intercorrelations
statistically significant. Personal and physical supports were positively correlated, as were
and physical threats. Further, ratings of supports were negatively correlated with ratings of
In their homes, personal and physical supports were so highly and positively correlated
that, in effect,

they constitute the same variable. Further, both were negatively correlated with personal
threats. In
contrast, perceptions of physical threats seemed to constitute an unpredictable element in
the home
environment, as they were not related to any of the other variables.
On the streets, personal and physical supports were related. Further, physical (but not
supports was significantly and negatively related to personal and physical threats.
physical supports provided some buffer against threats. Finally, personal and physical
threats were
so highly correlated as to constitute essentially the same variable.
There were also some cross-situational correlations among environmental perceptions.
Boys who
rated personal supports higher at home also rated it higher in institutions (r = .42, n = 29, p
< .02).
Boys who rated physical supports higher at home also rated it higher in institutions (r = .42,
n = 30, p
< .02); and those who rated this variable higher in institutions rated it lower on the streets
(r = -.33, n
= 30, p < .05). No cross-situational correlations were found for personal threats. However,
boys who
gave a higher rating to physical threats at home also rated it higher in institutions (r = .54,
n = 30, p <
.001) and lower on the streets (r = -.40, n = 40, p < .01). When these correlations were
separately for boys who had been in institutions and those who had not, the patterns were
substantially different.
In brief, boys who rated personal supports, physical supports, and physical threats high at
rated them similarly in institutions. Further, those who perceived physical supports as high
institutions saw it as low on the streets and vice versa; those who perceived physical
threats as high
at home perceived it as low on the streets and vice versa. These environmental patterns
defy easy
summary but do suggest some cross-situational similarity in the boys' perceptions of their
environments. Home and institutional environments were seen as somewhat similar and
somewhat negatively related to at least the physical characteristics of street environments.
Boys who
saw the streets as physically more supportive and less threatening also tended to see
homes and
institutions as more so.
Mean Score Comparisons
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The mean scores and comparisons of psychosocial characteristics within each context are

in Table 4. The omissions in the responses of some of these youth caused the numbers
and means
to vary somewhat from comparison to comparison. The patterns summarized here provide
the most
accurate obtainable picture of their reported psychosocial characteristics and
environments. The
figures in Table 5 are for the largest number of youths involved in any comparison of that
environmental variable.
Forty-four boys completed this portion of the structured interview, of which 13 had no
experience; the remainder had spent time in institutions voluntarily, involuntarily, or both.
Unfortunately, it was not possible from their responses to identify the correlates or the
effects of
voluntary, in comparison with involuntary, institutionalization. Nevertheless, whether or not
a boy had
spent time in an institution was clearly related to the level of a number of his psychosocial
environmental perceptions.
Boys who had not been institutionalized rated self-efficacy significantly lower on the street,
13.52, than in a general context, M = 17.87, t(12) = 2.87, p < .05, or at home, M = 17.38,
t(12) = 3.02,
p < .05. Boys who had been institutionalized rated self-efficacy lowest at home, M = 13.32,
contrast to their significantly higher general ratings, M = 15.86, t(24) = 4.11, p < .001, and
ratings, M = 16.00, t(24) = 2.96, p < .001. The never-institutionalized boys also rated
marginally significantly higher than the institutionalized group in general situations, t(42) =
1.96, p <
.06, and significantly higher in the home situation, t(36) = 3.08, p < .01.
Briefly, the boys who had institutional experience reported themselves as significantly
lowest in
self-efficacy at home and as lower in the general and at home contexts than their
counterparts. They
felt more control over their fates in the streets or institutions. To the never-institutionalized
home was the context in which they felt most self-efficacious.
In rating self-world relations (trust), the boys who had not been institutionalized rated
significantly higher at home, M = 20.94, t(12) = 6.79, p < .001, and in general, M = 18.31,
t(12) =
7.57, p < .001, than on the street, M = 11.42. The boys who had been institutionalized
themselves higher in institutions, M = 20.57, t(16) = 6.02, p < .001, and in general, M =
18.52, t(28) =
8.94, p < .001, than on the streets, M = 11.92. The never-institutionalized boys rated
significantly higher in trust, t(38) = 2.65, p < .05, than the institutionalized group in the
home situation,

M = 16.73.
Briefly, it was at home that the never-institutionalized boys felt most trusting. For the other
boys, their
senses of trust at home were significantly lower; institutions were the contexts in which
they were the
most trusting of others.
In rating behavioral attributes (level of active planfulness), the boys who had not been
institutionalized rated themselves significantly higher in general, M = 17.31, t(12) = 2.25, p
< .05,
than at home, M = 15.23, and gave intermediate ratings for the streets, M = 15.69. The
boys who had
been institutionalized rated themselves highest in general, M = 20.57, significantly lowest
at home, M
= 13.19, t(25) = 2.12, p < .05, and nonsignificantly higher in institutions. Their ratings on
the streets,
M = 16.02, were significantly higher than at home, t(25) = 2.12, p < .05, but not
significantly different
from the other ratings.
In comparisons of the two groups, no significant mean differences occurred, although the
boys with
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institutional experience did rate themselves as more actively planful than the neverinstitutionalized
boys in all contexts. Further, the boys of both groups rated themselves highest in the
general context
and higher in active planfulness on the streets than at home.
Finally, these three measures (self-efficacy, self-world, and behavioral attributes) were
combined to
obtain an overall psychosocial competence rating. The boys who had not been
institutionalized rated
themselves significantly higher in general, M = 53.55, t(12) = 3.30, p < .01, and at home, M
= 53.84,
t(12) = 2.92, p < .05, than on the streets, M = 43.95. The boys who had been
institutionalized rated
themselves significantly higher in general, M = 50.14, t(25) = 5.66, p < .001, in institutions,
47.71, t(16) = 2.46, p < .05, and on the streets, M = 47.39, t(24) = 2.86, p < .01, than at
home, M =
40.58. They also rated themselves significantly higher in general than on the streets, t(28)
= 2.16, p <
The only mean difference between the two groups was the significantly higher
competence score of the never-institutionalized boys for the home situation, M = 53.84, in
comparison with the institutionalized boys, M = 40.58, t(37) = 3.99, p < .001; however, the
sense of psychosocial competence of the previously institutionalized boys was lowest at
home. Both
groups assigned their highest ratings of psychosocial competence to the general context,

feeling more psychosocially competent in their lives in general than in any other particular
The mean score comparisons of environmental supports and threats across contexts are
in Table 5. These scores also provide a basis for visual, though not statistical, inspection of
environmental patterns within each situation. Statistical comparisons within situations have
not been
attempted, for the environmental scales vary in the numbers of items they include.
In rating their perceptions of level of personal supports, the boys who had not been
rated support highest in general, M = 27.02, somewhat lower at home, M= 23.49, and
even lower on
the streets, M = 17.92. None of these differences achieved statistical significance. The
boys who had
been institutionalized rated personal supports highest in general, M = 22.70; slightly lower
institutions, M = 22.49; and significantly lower on the streets, M = 20.22, t(27) = 2.12, p < .
Further, they rated personal supports significantly lowest at home, M = 16.09, in
comparison with all
other contexts: t(25) = 7.90, p < .001; home-institutions, t(16) = 4.47, p < .001; and homestreet, t(25)
= 3.81, p < .001).
The previously institutionalized boys rated personal supports significantly lower in general,
t(39) =
2.67, p < .05, and at home, t(36) = 3.98, p < .001; in fact, these boys rated themselves as
lower personal supports at home than anywhere else, including on the streets, and little
support overall.
The boys who had not been institutionalized rated their perceptions of personal threats
higher on the streets, M = 12.38, than at home, M = 5.54, t(12) = 4.02, p < .01. Previously
institutionalized boys also rated personal threats significantly higher on the streets, M =
11.37, than at
home, M = 7.81, t(25) = 3.81, p < .001, or in institutions, M = 6.47, t(16) = 4.63, p < .001. In
comparing the two groups of boys, we found no significant differences. Perceptions of
threats were similar in emphasizing the dangers on the streets.
In rating their perceptions of level of physical supports, the boys who had not been
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rated support significantly higher at home, M = 18.62, than on the streets, M = 11.38, t(12)
= 4.31, p
< .001. The boys who had been institutionalized rated physical supports highest in
institutions, M =
16.12, nonsignificantly lower at home, M = 13.65, and significantly lowest on the streets, M
= 10.98,

t(16) = 2.68, p < .05. In comparing the two groups, we found a significant difference for the
ratings in that the never-institutionalized boys reported more physical supports at home,
t(37) = 2.96,
p < .01. As with personal supports, the previously institutionalized boys found physical
lacking at home.
The boys who had not been institutionalized rated physical threats significantly higher on
the streets,
M = 8.38, than at home, M = 3.69, t(25) = 6.25, p < .001. The boys who had been
rated physical threats significantly higher on the streets, M = 8.23, than in institutions, M =
4.18, t(12)
= 4.01, p < .01, or at home, M = 4.00, t(13) = 5.38, p < .001. In comparing the two groups
of boys, we
found no significant differences. For both groups, the streets were significantly most
Ratings of support showed that boys who had not been in institutions rated their level of
supports higher in general and in their home situation; they also rated their level of
physical supports,
t(36) = 3.98, p < .001) higher at home than did previously institutionalized boys. Both
groups seemed
to have similar perceptions of the threats in their environments in that they felt personally
physically threatened to a greater extent on the streets than at home. Those who had been
institutionalised, however, saw institutions as less physically threatening than the streets
but as
threatening as their homes.
A final set of analyses focused on the question of whether the psychosocial characteristics
of the
youths were related to their environments. We conducted stepwise multiple regression
analyses to
determine how those supports and threats related to the assessed psychosocial
characteristics, the
findings of which have been reported in detail in Tyler and Tyler (1990). Specifically, in the
context, only personal supports were predictive of self-efficacy. Personal supports, with
threats accounting for some additional variance, were the only predictors of self-world
Finally, only the level of physical supports predicted active planfulness.
In institutional contexts, both self-efficacy and active planfulness were predicted only by
supports. In contrast, the level of positive self-world perception was inversely related to
threats and positively related to physical supports. Finally, in the context of the streets, all
psychosocial attributes were related only to personal supports.

Across all contexts, it was primarily the level of support that predicted the level of
attributes. For self-efficacy, it was personal supports in each context. For active
planfulness, it was
personal supports in institutions and on the streets, and physical supports at home. Only
perceptions (trust) was found to be related to threats as well as supports. At home and in
personal supports was the primary contributor to trust, and personal threats contributed
directly to
distrust. Physical supports also contributed positively to the level of trust. On the streets,
supports was the only significant and direct predictor of trust.
In this study, we applied Tyler's psychosocial competence perspective to a sample of
street youth in
Bogota, Colombia. The study's collaborative, psychosocial competence-based
methodology allowed
the investigators to document the lives of these youth from the youths' own perspectives.
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psychosocial competence oriented interview schedule was structured to identify their
strengths and
weaknesses and to permit documentation of their unique experiences. We found the
interview format
a useful tool for studying these relatively unknown lifestyles and the ways in which the
youth living
them adapt to and cope with the unique challenges they face.
These youth were able to define their psychosocial characteristics in general and
distinguish them in
the three contexts of their lives--at home, in institutions, and on the streets. As expected, in
and in each distinct context, the pattern of intercorrelations indicated that the higher their
level of
self-efficacy, the higher their level of trust and active planfulness. This configuration was
pronounced in institutions and at home, settings that would ordinarily be expected to be
stable. When
the correlations between variables were computed across situations, however, results
indicated that
the variables were not correlated for the youth who had had institutional exposure. For
them, each
situation was unique, and their perceptions of themselves in each of those situations
reflected that
Both groups of street youth saw substantial intrasituational and some cross-situational
generality to
the supports and threats in their environments. In all contexts, they saw personal and

supports as positively correlated; personal and physical threats as positively correlated;
and the level
of supports and threats as negatively related to each other. In particular, on the streets, the
level of
physical support did seem to provide a buffer: It was negatively related to the level of
personal and physical threat. Perceived levels of personal and physical support on the
streets were
negatively related to perception of physical support in institutions. Perceived physical
support by
previously institutionalized boys was, in turn, positively related to physical support at
home. Youth
who felt more support on the street also felt less support in institutions and at home.
The somewhat distinctive patterns of psychosocial functioning of these youths in the
contexts were reflected in their perceived levels of self-efficacy, trust, and active
planfulness in those
contexts. Those patterns were also related to their perceptions of their distinctive
environments and
to whether they had been living in an institution.
In their homes, these youths perceived themselves to be low in self-efficacy, moderately
trusting, and
very low in active planful coping. The findings revealed a contrast between the boys who
had been in
institutions and those who had not. The boys with institutional exposure perceived
themselves to be
significantly lower in self-efficacy and trust. They also rated the levels of personal and
supports as significantly lower at home than did the other boys. All the boys saw the level
of personal
and physical supports in their environments as positively related to each other and
negatively related
to the presence of personal threats. Further, they perceived the level of their psychosocial
that is, their sense of psychosocial competence, as being positively related, primarily to the
level of
personal supports available at home.
The boys who had been in institutions rated themselves high on trust (in that setting),
high in self-efficacy, and very low in active planfulness. To them, the levels of personal and
supports in institutions were positively related and both were negatively related to personal
they felt the most personal and physical supports in institutions. They experienced
equal levels of personal and physical threats in institutions and at home, but fewer in either
of those
contexts than on the streets. In institutions, levels of self-efficacy and of active planfulness
related primarily to personal supports.

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Only in institutions was a different relationship found between one of the psychosocial
attributes and
the environmental variables. Specifically, the level of trust was primarily an inverse function
physical threats and a direct function of physical supports. In this externally controlled
situation in
which the youth had least control of their destinies, they were apparently most concerned
protection from physical dangers (accidents, illness) and the presence of basic supports
such as food
and clothing.
All the boys rated themselves as actively coping with street life, moderately selfefficacious, and very
distrusting. Further analysis showed that the boys who had been in institutions were more
self-efficacious on the streets; the never-institutionalized boys were very low on selfefficacy. The two
groups also rated themselves differently regarding the levels of personal support they
received on
the streets in contrast to home. For the boys with institutional experience, personal
supports were
higher on the streets; for the others they were lower. All were exposed to more personal
and physical
threats on the streets and had substantially fewer physical supports there. Finally, for all of
them, the
levels of their psychosocial competence ratings on the streets were related primarily to the
levels of
personal supports they received there.
Theoretical Implications
Pepitone's critique of cross-cultural research (1989) describes developmental theory as
predominantly cognitively oriented and focused on establishing universal, content-free
However, its theorists and subjects are predominantly Western psychologists by birth,
or at least by education. Thus, their views are conceptually and culturally constricted. For
Hartup ( 1983) in his chapter, Peer Relations, in Vol. 4 of the Handbook of Child
Psychology, states:
Secure family relations are the basis for entry into the peer system and success within it.
breakdown tends to interfere with adaptation to the peer culture, and good family relations
needed throughout childhood and adolescence as the basis for peer relations.... Most
remain attuned to parental norms even though much time is spent with other children.
may be considerable when adolescents are alienated from their parents and associate
agemates who endorse misconduct, but the majority of adolescents are able to synthesize
understandings and expectations of their families and their peers. (p. 172)

Though Hartup's bibliography does not include studies on runaways or homeless children
or even
children from a range of cultures, he does not qualify his remarks as referring only to a
population of children and youth. It is not appropriate to use only data from either
organized or
disorganized families to draw inferences about the capabilities of children who are faced
with the task
of survival and self-socialization outside of a family context. Further, it is inappropriate to
prosocial behavior with conformity to adult control and expectations or to consider
established by one society to be the norm for all.
The implications of the findings from this Bogota study are that a psychosocial
conception of the behavior of youth provides a more comprehensive and more defensible
for understanding the nature of the self and world perceptions of youth and of their ways of
with their environments. These findings also suggest that young people organize their
attributes primarily within the framework of the realities available to them and the supports
existing in
those realities. They tend to seek constructive adaptive patterns even though their own
lives have
been marred by loss, abuse, and exploitation.
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Although the youth we studied reflected the trauma of their negative experiences and were
to the presence of threats (e.g., in institutions), their lives did not seem to be dominated by
things. Admittedly, some had abandoned hope and others were caught up in selfdestructive
behavior. Nevertheless, the finding that many of these youth had chosen street life, had
strong supportive ties and caring relationships there, and had coped more actively with
their lives on
the streets than in the less-threatening home and institutional environments, provides an
challenge to traditional conceptions of the requirements for healthy child development.
Many of these youth were making at least some contribution to their society, even under
adverse circumstances. They worked as scavengers, washed cars, ran errands, and
undertook a
variety of other menial tasks, a finding that challenges the mainstream Western view of
children as
dependent and unproductive. Society has much to gain from incorporating a view of
children as
resourceful in their own right. They not only are potential contributors to society, they are,
in reality,

contributors even during their formative years.
These findings also support the view that the form and integrity of relationships among
children are
not exclusively moderated by adults. Children form relationships among themselves
independent of
adult guidance and outside the adult norms and models available to them. The origin,
nature, and
importance of those relationships clearly warrant further investigation as well as
incorporation into
our theories of child behavior and development. Youth such as these can and do formulate
and salient perceptions of themselves and their environments and guide themselves
accordingly to
survive and even develop their own possibilities.
Psychosocial dimensions must be incorporated into theories of individual development in
any cultural
context. Thinking of these street youth as straightforward products of developmental
processes apart
from the contexts of their lives seems grossly inadequate. We have no other way to
account for their
capacity to form peer-oriented minicommunities as well as personal relationships without
them as developing their lives psychosocially. They are responsive to the ecologies of their
world and
are actively engaged in surviving in relationship to those ecologies, even though those
may be hostile.
Public Policy Formation
The stark psychological and physical poverty that marks the lives of these youth and their
requires substantial social policy change, if their lives are to be significantly improved.
substantial social change requires demonstrating the destructive impact of the conditions
characterize the lives of these boys and recognizing that these conditions are not selfinduced. The
format and results of this research support the conclusion that these youth do not bring
their fate on
themselves and that providing prosocial options to such youth can benefit society while
meeting the
youth's needs as well.
Such an approach to public policy needs to acknowledge that the role and skills of youth
are valued
and used by at least some segments of society. We may be distressed when youth are
involved in
antisocial and corrupting activities, but to change that situation we must provide them with
appropriate legal ways to survive and we must protect them from adult exploitation. Unless
we can
provide these youth with a sense of worth within organized society, they will continue to
survive as

best they can even though some of their activities will be demeaning, self-destructive,
antisocial, and
may benefit those in society who exploit them.
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Program Development
In constructing programs for young people, including street youth, we need to base our
approach on
their strengths and capacity for self-empowerment as well as for prosocial empowerment.
workers can recognize the coping capabilities of intact families and work to support and
them so that their integrity can be maintained. In the absence of intact families, social
agencies can work to strengthen the relationships between street youth and their primary
even if those caretakers are other street youth.
Program approaches need to avoid equating prosocial behavior with conformity to adult
control and
expectations. The imposition of institutional values is counterproductive to the extent that
devalue young people, lead them to devalue themselves, and make them dependent.
Instead of
devaluing their capabilities, institutions and homes can build on the strength of youth and
responsive to their input and ideas when planning, implementing, and evaluating
programs. Many
street youth have found (or formed) constructive minicommunities to obtain the sense of
that their families or society have not provided. Programs that build on those capabilities
will be
significant in strengthening their self-empowerment. Such programs will also be significant
channeling that self-empowerment in prosocial directions.
Finally, efforts to be of constructive assistance to these youth need to incorporate a
sensitivity to the
victimization and other traumatizing experiences to which they have been exposed. Denial
of the
impact of those experiences can lead only to loss of our credibility and effectiveness. They
programs that provide support and assistance for their attempts to explore and understand
experiences. They also need long-term personal and institutional supports to facilitate their
with their lives as meaningfully as possible.
Direct Intervention
Efforts to be of constructive assistance to street youth seem limited at best and doomed to
failure at
worst, unless they incorporate a sensitivity to the traumatic nature of the experiences of
the youths.

Denying the impact of their experiences or pretending that such youth are still innocent or,
worse, can return to an innocent state can only lead to loss of our credibility. Blaming them
rejecting them is not helpful. We need to create individual programs that build on each
capabilities. Such programs will help to channel the self-empowerment of street youth in
Alpha Reliabilities
General Home Street Institution
Subscale (n = 33-44) (n = 33-44) (n = 33-44) (n = 26-30)
Psychosocial Competence Scale
PSC .49 .76 .78 .87
SEFF .28 .61 .40 .72
SW .31 .77 .57 .63
BA .53 .51 .47 .58
Environmental Scale
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PES .89 .62 .82
PET .76 .72 .71
PHS .87 .71 .84
PHT .46 .63 .36
PSC = Psychosocial Competence; SEFF = Self-Efficacy; SW = Self-World; BA =
Attributes; PES = Personal Supports; PET = Personal Threats; PHS = Physical Supports;
Physical Threatss.
Psychosocial Variable Pearson's Product Intercorrelations
Context SEFF SW
General (n = 43-44)
SW .04
BA .49[***] .19
Home (n = 39)
SW .69[***]
BA .41[**] .11
Street (n = 42)
SW .53[***]
BA .21 .23
Institution (n-30)
SW .42[**]
BA .67[***] .37[*]
[*]p < .05, [**]p < .01, [***]p < .0001
Environmental Variable Pearson's Product Intercorrelations
Home (n = 39-40)
PHS .77[*]
PET -.70[*] -.43[**]

PHT -.02 .00 .04
Street (n = 43-44)
PHS .46[*]
PET -.17 -.38[**]
PHT -.11 -.39[**] .78[*]
Institution (n = 30)
PHS .83[*]
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PET -.55[*] -.36
PHT -.50[*] -.38[***] .54[*]
[*]p < .05, [**]p, .01, [***]p < .001.
Psychosocial Competence Scale Means of Boys With
and Without Institutional Experience
With Institutional Experience (N = 31)
General (n = 29-31) 50.14 15.86 18.52 15.31
Home (n = 25-27) 40.58 13.32 16.73 13.19
Street (n = 28-29) 47.39 16.00 11.92 16.02
Institution (n = 17) 47.71 16.00 20.57 14.32
Without Institutional Experience (N = 31)
General 53.55 17.87 18.31 17.31
Home 53.84 17.38 20.94 15.23
Street 43.95 13.52 11.42 15.69
Environmental Scale Means of Boys With and
Without Institutional Experience
With Institutional Experience (N = 31)
Home (n = 26) 16.09 7.81 13.65 4.00
Street (n = 29-30) 20.22 11.37 10.98 8.23
Institution (n = 17) 22.49 6.47 16.12 4.18
With Institutional Experience (N = 13)
Home (n = 12-13) 23.49 5.54 18.62 3.69
Street (n = 13) 17.92 12.38 11.38 8.38
Psychosocial Competence and Environmental Scale Items
Psychosocial Competence
Self-Efficacy Self-World Behavioral Attributes
Self-respect Sense of belonging Resourcefulness
Control of life Cooperation Planning
Happiness Respect for authority Independence
Self-Honesty Concern for others Work
Self-trust Sharing Leadership
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Personal Physical Personal Physical
Supports Supports Threats Threats
Affection Clothing Danger from Chance of
Assistance Food people accidents

Protection Shelter Danger from Danger from
Fellowship Health Care authorities infection and
Respect Hygiene Revenge from diseases
Trust (friends) Facilities victims
These scale items were originally reported in Tyler, Tyler
& Echeverry (1985).
We wish to express our deepest gratitude to and admiration for the street workers and
youth in
Bogota, without whose trust and cooperation this study could not have been conducted.
The support
of the Graduate Research Board, the Computer Science Center, and the Psychology
Department at
the University of Maryland have also been invaluable. Finally, we thank the colleagues and
volunteers working with the Children's Outreach and Program Evaluation group who have
us with this project.
Requests for reprints should be sent to Forrest B. Tyler, Department of Psychology,
University of
Maryland, College Park, MD 20742.
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Received December 3, 1990
Department of Psychology, University of Maryland
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