Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Directions for Typology Development


Following the paper presentations and discussions, the group discussed how best to proceed with the task of typology development. The following general guidelines emerged from the discussion.

The two top goals for a typology should be a focus on prevention (in hopes of minimizing the population) and resource allocation. From the Federal perspective, having data on how best to match the resources that exist with the needs of the population is important. With multiple, equally important goals, it was concluded that more than one typology is necessary to best inform the field.

Dr. Babor's recommendation of a four-cell model between environment (facilitators/barriers) and service needs of families (minor and major needs) should be explored. Dr. Babor thought the empirical question is whether these levels are adequate and appropriate for differentiation. The suggestion was to identify the services that are available for allocation, including mental health, substance abuse, medication, STD clinics, prenatal services, domestic violence, trauma, employment, education, and legal services. Then put all variables together and see if different clusters form. The results might show two large groups emerging, one of high needs and the other of low needs. The high needs group might cluster around history of domestic violence, mental health, substance abuse, and poor employment, whereas the other group might have relatively few problems. For children, include child person-variables such as education needs, domestic situation, CBCL scores, and ages and see how those variables cluster. Dr. Babor reiterated that a goal of the typology is to define subgroups.

A prevention focus might be best addressed by waiting until families are present at the shelter door for the first time and then triage from there. In this vein, it was recommended that we pursue the use of existing administrative data of Hennepin County, Minnesota and other communities (e.g., Arizona) where they are attempting to assess needs and triage in real time. Hennepin has developed a classification system for treatment matching of shelter usage by assessing needs and triaging in real time. Classification is used at a very practical level and provides a method for service providers to use when deciding who receives shelter (i.e., level 1 and level 2 are referred elsewhere, level 3- referred to the shelter).

The group determined that a priority is to continue to explore methods for informing the knowledge gaps discussed and described earlier in Chapter 2:

  • Family separation;
  • Different family structures (couple vs. married);
  • Father's support network;
  • Data on families across different regions of the country;
  • Families at risk;
  • Moderate needs families;
  • Those who fall back into homelessness despite intervention;
  • Working homeless families;
  • Two-parent families;
  • Families in extended family networks;
  • Longitudinal studies of homeless families; and
  • Studies that focus on homeless children.

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