a multiple case study design was applied to data collected through ecological engagement in developmental contexts of adolescents in socially vulnerable situations. four adolescents were selected from a larger study of 98 brazilian adolescents in two distinct groups (g1 - youth in street situations and g2 - impoverished youth living with their families). the selected adolescents had the highest and lowest adjustment scores in their respective groups. quantitative data and observational field notes were used to describe the four youth on indicators of adjustment and risk and protective factors. results indicated points of convergence and divergence between the cases and the existence of a continuum of social vulnerability that was strongly related to how risk and protective factors interact in the life of each adolescent, rather than being strongly related to living situation (street or families).