Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness: Current Practices and Future Directions

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  1. Part III: Future Directions for Research | ASPE
  2. Research on programs designed to support positive parenting
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In doing so, the importance of providing families with culturally competent services that support them during episodes of homelessness as well as the period of re-housing are addressed.

Part III: Future Directions for Research | ASPE

Examples of empirically proven interventions and best practices are showcased, and roadblocks to success and sustainability are discussed. Census Bureau veterans Weinreb well-being women young children. Her program of research is designed to gain understanding of factors that contribute to harsh parenting and factors that promote resilience of young abused children. Her work focuses on using partnership-based research to promote the development and well-being of vulnerable children, youth, and families.

Most recently, she has worked with Joe Willard of the People's Emergency Center to examine the prevalence and influence of homeless experiences among youth enrolled in Philadelphia's public high schools. Of these women, 84 percent were mothers and Another topic for future inquiry involves the issue of residential instability as a predictor of adverse outcomes in low-income children.

Moving from place to place is certainly a common event for homeless children in the months before and sometimes after a shelter stay, but such residential instability can also be experienced among children who remain in permanent housing and do not ever spend time living in a homeless shelter. The impact that residential instability has on child outcomes is not presently well understood.

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Homeless children, because of their impoverished circumstances and residential instability share commonalities with another at-risk group of children, namely dependents of migrant farm workers. Mostly Latino of Mexican and Central American heritage, migrant farm workers provide a low-cost source of labor for American farmers who seasonally require large numbers of temporary workers to harvest their crops.

About one-third of such workers lead a transient lifestyle as they travel from one state to another in the course of a year, laboring to harvest the different types of produce grown in each region. They are paid low-wages, usually with no or minimal benefits and must live in crowded makeshift abodes.

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It is estimated that about 42 percent of the 2 million farm workers in the United States are migrant workers. The National Commission on Migrant Education estimated that about , children belong to migrant farm worker families. Older children sometimes work alongside adults in the fields while younger children are loosely supervised during working hours.

Studies of children of migrant farm workers have observed problems of a similar nature to that of homeless children, including higher rates of health and mental health problems compared to children in the general population, elevated rates of physical abuse, and academic problems Kupersmidt and Martin, ; Larson, Doris, and Alvarez, ; Research Triangle Institute, ; Slesinger, Christenson, and Cautley, While the residential instability of migrant workers is somewhat more elective and predictable than for homeless families, it nonetheless can lead to similar problems, particularly difficulties in attending school and graduating National Commission on Migrant Education, As previously characterized, the emphasis on research to date involving homeless children has been to discern the nature and extent of impact that homelessness can have on children.

Referring back to Figure , studies have tried to identify and quantify, to some extent, a homelessness-specific effect on children above and beyond a poverty-related impact. Because of this focus, much less is understood about homeless children themselves in terms of having different constellations of needs. For instance, studies of homeless children typically use measures of central tendency when summarizing results rather than focusing on a range or extremes in outcomes.

For instance, it could be the case that a subgroup of homeless children with demonstrable needs require much more in the way of services than they are presently receiving while in shelter; whereas other homeless children, those with fewer problems, do not stand to benefit from the services than they presently getting. A better understanding of this issue would help in allocating preventive and treatment services for homeless children in the most sensible manner possible.

The studies that have been conducted to date on homeless children can be characterized as having predominantly taken a variable-centered approach to analyses. In other words, variables in specific domains e. In such analyses, little if any attention is paid to how, for instance, there may be subgroups of children with quite different patterns in the type and severity of their problems or needs.

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In contrast, a person-centered approach to data analysis e. Little, if any, work in this area has been done to date, for the simple reason that it has not been a question that researchers have been trying to address at least in the published literature , although it could have been examined. Nonetheless, those data sets from studies of homeless children that have a range of relevant outcome measures could be analyzed using cluster analytic and other person-centered procedures to rather readily identify subgroups based on problems or needs.

What are some of the things that might be found by looking at how problems in homeless children cluster together?


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In terms of how school-age children present with problems, it is common to see co-occurring difficulties in the realms of mental health and academic functioning, although it is difficult to discern if one is the cause of the other e. Most of the time, mental health issues and academic performance influence each other in a reciprocal manner. In summary, the literature on homeless children conducted over the past 18 years has focused on trying to understand if, how, and to what extent homelessness has an impact on children.

Studies involving both homeless and low-income housed children have consistently found evidence for a poverty-related impact on children; that is finding that both groups have more problems on measures compared to children from nonpoverty backgrounds. Discerning an additional, homelessness-specific, impact in different realms of child functioning has been more difficult; although, not surprisingly, the preponderance of the evidence does suggest that homelessness is detrimental to the well-being of children across various realms of functioning.

Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness

Yet, enough studies having the methodological capability of finding effects of homelessness above and beyond poverty on children have not done so, making it seem that a range of potential effect modifiers and contextual variables are operating, such that homelessness-specific effects are sometimes, but not always, detected by researchers. Additional areas in which further research is needed include trying to better understand parent-child separations that can occur because of a homeless episode and the effects this has on family members. Also, very little attention has been given to understanding whether there are distinct subgroups of homeless children based on different constellations of problems or needs.

As studies have indicated, homeless families are not a static and isolated group.


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  • Homeless families emerge from a broader population of low-income families living in housing and eventually return to this larger group. Because homelessness is but one of many stressors that children living in poverty must encounter, it is wise to always be mindful of the broader context of poverty in terms of understanding the needs and issues of homeless children.

    Many of their problems and needs will be quite similar to housed children who are living in poverty. That said, it is also vitally important to appreciate the specific problems that children encounter when homeless and attempt to rectify them. Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children.