Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Summary and Discussion of Prospects for Secondary Analysis


Toward a Typology of Homeless Families: Prospects for Secondary Analysis
Authors: Debra Rog, C. Scott Holupka, Kelly Hastings, Lisa Patton, Marybeth Shinn

Summary of Presentation. Chapter four of this report presents a review of 15 secondary data sets for potential enhancement and/or secondary analysis. National and state/local data sets were reviewed at both the general population and special population levels. For each data set, information was obtained on its purpose, use, size, scope, domains, and items. Each data set was then screened based on three main criteria: Were the data accessible for secondary analysis within the proposed timeframe? Did the data set include domains related to housing insufficiency, residence, and/or homelessness? Was the unit of analysis at the family level? National data sets such as the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), surprisingly, have data on characteristics and service use but do not contain data on homelessness or housing instability. The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being data set and the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF) seemed to be the best prospects for informing the typology efforts.

The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study follows a birth cohort of new parents and their children over a period of 5 years. A stratified random sample of 20 cities was selected from U.S. cities with 200,000 or more people and then hospitals within cities were sampled. Data were collected at baseline from both the mother and father, with followup interviews occurring at 12, 30, and 48 months. The data set included extensive information on demographics, familial relationships, child well-being, heath and development of the child, residential mobility of both parents, and a variety of homelessness identifiers. This study offers the most promise for informing the typology because it samples a high-risk population through a longitudinal design of young pregnant mothers. Finally, the study is currently available and national in scope and would offer some city-level information.

The National Survey of America's Families was designed to gather data on economic, social, and health characteristics of families and children from representative cross-sectional samples of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population under the age of 65. The NSAF provides a rich data set on both parents and children. The NSAF contains information on a range of domains, including employment, welfare receipt, social relationships, and emotional and physical well-being, and provides child-level data on social, emotional, behavioral outcomes, mental and physical health outcomes, and children's academic outcomes. A potential strength of the NSAF is that, although the homeless population is not specifically surveyed, the three administered surveys do focus on housing and economic hardship variables. The NSAF would therefore provide a rich data set to study families who are doubled-up and valuable information on those at-risk for homelessness.

Summary of reactions and comments. Even though the Fragile Families study was not as widely known by panelists, the majority agreed that the data set appeared potentially informative to typology efforts. Also noted was that, although NSAF does not directly identify homelessness, it does contain helpful doubled-up population identifiers (though it is a surprisingly small percentage of the sample). Other panelists were surprised that SIPP did not include relevant variables.

Other existing data collection efforts suggested for secondary analysis included the following:

  • Hennepin County, Minnesota homelessness program
  • Chapin-Hall, University of Chicago database on foster children
  • Multi-city Study of Urban Inequality (including life history interviews)
  • Detroit Area Studies (has ended)
  • Sampson/Raudenbush research in Chicago, IL (cluster study design of neighborhoods across city)
  • National Survey of America's Families (NSAF)
  • Survey of Income Program Participation (SIPP)

In general, the panel discussed the importance of analyzing administrative data at the local level. In particular, the Hennepin County homelessness program was identified as a good source for re-examination.

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