Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Paper Title: The Impact of Homelessness on Children: An Analytic Review of the Literature

10/01/2007

Paper Title: The Impact of Homelessness on Children: An Analytic Review of the Literature
(full text of paper can be found in Appendix A of this report)
Author: John Buckner

Summary of Presentation. This paper provides a review of the literature on the effects of homelessness on children's mental and physical health, behavior, and academic performance. Reasons for inconsistent findings were offered, such as contextual and policy-related differences in the communities where examinations of homeless children have taken place. Knowledge gaps identified include better understanding of contextual factors, family separations, and how homeless children overlap with housed poor children. In general, no significant subgroups of homeless children have been identified in the literature.

The author concluded that a typology should take advantage of existing data sets and take a person-centered approach. This type of approach would look across different realms of child functioning using techniques like cluster analysis versus the more typical "variable-centered" approach of previous studies. The author recommended adding other realms of child functioning (such as school attendance) to make the typology more comprehensive. The author also warned that it might be difficult to juxtapose typologies of homeless children with typologies of families if based on parental characteristics.

Summary of reactions and comments. The panelists identified a number of areas where more information on homeless children would be useful. There was interest in understanding the effects of residential instability on children's outcomes. Dr. Buckner noted that instability affects a child's school performance as it generally results in more school absences and difficulty adjusting to new environments. Mental health outcomes, however, are affected by a wider array of violence exposure situations experienced by children, and physical health is negatively affected by overcrowding and generally poor nutrition. The panelists also noted that the typology would benefit from more data on family separations.

Panel members felt that a separate typology for children would not be necessary. It was suggested that if a child was ever living in the homeless system with the parent, then it would be possible to link child welfare data and track where the child was living over time. One panelist noted that the Chapin Hall Center at the University of Chicago study is examining foster care child-level data in this manner. Sue Barrow and Judy Samuels are also conducting ethnographic work on family separation that might be examined. Additional issues discussed included how foster care children would be included in the typology.

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