Homeless Children: Update on Research, Policy, Programs, and Opportunities. Education

05/15/2010

Nine studies reviewed by Buckner (2005, 2008) examined attendance, achievement, and other academic outcomes for homeless children using a variety of measures (Table 2 Part D). All but one study found homeless children worse off than general population samples; and six of seven studies found them worse off than housed children. The one study that found homeless children equivalent to both housed children and the general population was conducted after the EHCY program was established, reducing school mobility and barriers to school enrollment for homeless children. The age of the children did not appear to be related to findings. In the study of children in supportive housing programs, 22 percent of children age 12–19 but only 8 percent of younger children attended school less than 80 percent of the time.

An important exception to the generalization that studies of homeless children are confined to those who experience shelter is a study in the Minneapolis public schools (Obradovic, Long, Cutuli, Chan, Hinz, Heistad, & Masten, 2009). Children in four primary school grade cohorts who met the criteria for homelessness under the ED definition or who moved three or more times in a 12-month period were classified as “homeless and highly mobile” and were compared to children who were poor (eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) but not homeless or highly mobile, and children who were neither homeless nor highly mobile at any time during the three school years of the study. Homeless and highly mobile children, who made up 9.5 percent of the 14,754 students in the sample, scored significantly lower on both reading and math than other poor children, and both groups fell well below more socioeconomically advantaged peers. In the three oldest cohorts of children, either reading (5th grade cohort) or math (3rd and 4th grade cohorts) scores also increased faster for advantaged students than for the two disadvantaged groups. There was considerable variability within the homeless and highly mobile group, with approximately 20 percent of students scoring at or above national means, but 40 percent scoring a standard deviation or more below those means.

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