Conceptualising the social networks of vulnerable children and young people: A systematic review and narrative synthesis.

Imogen Nevard, Chloe Green, Vicky Bell, Judith Gellatly, Helen Brooks, Penny Bee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relationship between social networks and health and wellbeing is increasingly demonstrated in vulnerable adult populations. This relationship for vulnerable children and young people has not hitherto been systematically reviewed. This narrative synthesis aims to consolidate research to provide a foundational basis for future health-related social network research and interventions for children and young people.

This mixed methods systematic review synthesises research investigating whole, egocentric social networks of 32 vulnerable child groups with a mean age below 18. There were no setting, language or date restrictions. The quality was assessed using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. Of 6360 search results, 49 were included for narrative synthesis.

The majority of pertinent research originates from the USA; the most frequently investigated vulnerabilities were minority ethnic status, homelessness and the presence of special educational needs. Research aims and methodologies varied significantly between studies. Key findings included (i) vulnerable (excluding minority ethnic) children and young people have impoverished networks (ii) access to networks is a protective factor against negative outcomes (iii) social ties, primarily immediate family, provide access to personal resources and (iv) network ties are to a degree substitutable.

Networks are associated with wellbeing and vulnerable children and young people commonly have impoverished networks, excluding cases where vulnerability classification relates to minority ethnic status. Network embeddedness is associated with positive outcomes, particularly for homeless children. Family are typically primary providers of support, but ties are substitutable when networks are restricted. Egocentric social network research is currently limited for vulnerable child populations. Further research could inform interventions that harness networks to improve health, wellbeing and functional outcomes for these child groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-182
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemology
Issue number2
Early online date2 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Child health
  • Egocentric social network analysis
  • Social networks
  • Vulnerable children
  • Wellbeing


Dive into the research topics of 'Conceptualising the social networks of vulnerable children and young people: A systematic review and narrative synthesis.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this