“That’s Why I Stay to Myself”: Marginalized Youth’s Meaning Making Processes of Social Disconnectedness

Heather L. Storer, Jennifer S. McCleary, Emily Pepin, Arianne Stallings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Nearly 15% of youth in New Orleans have been labeled “socially disconnected” from formal educational and economic systems (Babineau et al. in No longer invisible: Opportunity youth in New Orleans, http://www.thecoweninstitute.com.php56-17.dfw3-1.websitetestlink.com/uploads/OY-Data-Guide-2016-Revised-FINAL-1506966101.pdf, 2016). Socially disconnected youth face barriers to social, psychological, and economic well-being (Mendelson et al. in Public Health Rep 133:54S–64S, 2018). While there has been attention to the detrimental impacts associated with isolation in adolescence, there is a limited examination of how social isolation manifests in the lives of disconnected youth in urban communities. Data were collected from six focus groups at three youth-serving agencies in the urban south. Participants were aged 16–24 (n = 39), mixed gender, and the majority identified as African American. We utilized a thematic content analysis approach that involved multiple rounds of inductive coding. Youth reported an overarching theme of “staying to oneself’ or self-isolation. Youth constructed isolation as a complex cognitive and physical process utilized to stay safe from community and interpersonal violence. Self-isolation functioned as a tool of self-protection and as being essential to surviving and thriving amidst adversity. The consequences of self-isolation include perceptions that participants are alone to deal with life’s challenges and purposeful disengagement from community life. These findings offer a reframing of isolation that deviates from a good/bad binary to a more expansive understanding of the myriad ways isolation manifests in the lives of disconnected youth. While social service agencies aim to reconnect youth economically and academically, these findings underscore the importance of addressing upstream drivers of social disconnectedness, as well as integrating healing-centered clinical interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-34
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Social Work Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the staff at the Youth Empowerment Project, Café Reconcile, Liberty’s Kitchen, and the Cowen Institute for their support in conceptualizing and implementing this research project. Also, we would like to thank the voices of the youth represented in this research. Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Funding Information:
Funding for this research was generously provided by the Lavin Bernick Fund provided by Tulane University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Qualitative methods
  • Social isolation
  • Socially disconnected youth
  • Youth empowerment


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