Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Potential Risk and Protective Factors


Variables to be examined were selected in part based on characteristics that were found to be important in past research along with those proposed by members of an Expert Panel, convened to guide the conceptualization of the typology (a detailed meeting summary is included in Chapter 3). Demographic and background variables were examined, including the mother's age, race, and whether her first birth was as a teenager, as were several household characteristics, such as the number of children in the household and whether the mother was living with her spouse/partner, living with her own mother, or living with other adults (not including her spouse/partner). Variables were also examined that allow us to describe services used by these households, including receipt of health services, employment training, child care, and housing-related services, such as living in public housing or receiving housing assistance. Changes in health status, alcohol and substance use, and mental health have also been examined. Reports of whether the mother had recently been hit or slapped by her partner/spouse/child's father were also combined to create a measure of domestic violence. Table 3-1 provides a complete list of the variables that were examined.

Descriptive analyses, described below, were conducted with all of the variables shown in Table 5-1. Only those variables that showed substantial variation between housing groups (e.g., there were statistically significant differences between stably housed or homeless and at least two of the three other groups) or were considered important background and demographic characteristics, however, were included in the multivariate analyses.

Table 5-2. Variables from Fragile Families data set to be examined in descriptive reanalyses
Demographics (Mother and Father)
  • Age
  • Race (% African American)
  • Income

Household Composition

  • Live with partner/spouse
  • Live with mother
  • Number of other adults (not spouse/partner) in household
  • Number of children (<18) in household

Background (Mother):

  • Whether the mother first gave birth as a teenager (<18); age first gave birth
  • Currently attend any school/training
  • Whether mother has worked since target child was born; currently working
  • Receive health care during pregnancy
  • Any new pregnancies or children
  • Mother living with parents at age 15
  • Spouse/partner working
  • Other adult in household working

Problems Making Ends Meet

  • Receive free food/meal in last 12 months
  • Children ever go hungry last 12 months
  • Mother ever go hungry last 12 months

Government Assistance

  • Any income assistance (e.g., unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, SSI, etc.)
  • Receive TANF
  • Receive food stamps
  • Applied for EITC
  • Does mother live in a housing project?
  • Mother receiving subsidized housing
  • Safety of streets around home


Mother’s Services

  • Income from public assistance, welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, workmen’s compensation, disability, or Social Security benefits
  • Have any health insurance



  • Did mother receive financial support from anyone (other than child’s father)
  • Could mother count on someone for a $200 loan? $1,000 loan?
  • Could mother count on someone giving her a place to live?
  • Could mother count on someone to provide child care/babysitting?


Health, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse

  • Mother’s health
  • Use alcohol
  • Use drugs
  • Whether drinking or drugs has interfered with work
  • Whether mother sought help or was treated for drug or alcohol problems
  • Mother’s depression and anxiety levels


Conflict/Domestic Violence

  • Hit or slapped by a partner/spouse

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