Studies of homeless children have differed in terms of the assessment instruments employed, the degree of statistical power afforded by sample size, selection of comparison groups, enrollment procedures, and other factors. While there are methodological shortcomings in some studies, this probably is not a major reason for the inconsistencies in study findings. For one, some of the more methodologically rigorous studies are internally inconsistent. For example, in the Worcester study, differences were found between homeless and housed children on behavior problems (but only for internalizing problems in school-age children and externalizing problems for preschool children). Infants and toddlers in both groups appeared equivalent and no differences were found on measures of academic achievement among the older children. The Rescorla et al. (1991) study in Philadelphia made the questionable choice of having children in a health clinic serve as the housed comparison group. Yet, the magnitude of problems they assessed in their sample of homeless children was very high and they were likely to have found statistically significant differences between this group and whichever comparison group they might have selected.
Pointing out methodological differences between studies (or problems within studies) yields an uncompelling argument for why studies of homeless children paint such a confusing picture as to the impact of homelessness on children. Rather, inconsistencies across these studies may have more to do with the fact that these investigations have involved different study groups in different communities at different points in time during the fast changing history of family homelessness in America. These other factors, which are largely outside the realm of what is described in an article’s methodology section, are discussed in the pages to follow.