Homeless Children: Update on Research, Policy, Programs, and Opportunities. Section V. Discussion


This section describes five categories of open questions and issues for discussion at the roundtable meeting.

  1. Data/Information
    • HUD and ED (via the SEAs and LEAs) collect information on children who are homeless, but as with all data collection efforts there are limitations to these data. The Bureau of the Census will count homeless children this spring. How can data be used to help policymakers and providers better understand the needs of homeless children and the services they use?
    • Given that in HUD data young children are more likely to be homeless than school-age children, should data be collected on children who meet the ED definition of homelessness but are too young for school?
    • Are there ways to better understand the dynamics of homelessness for children, including the number who experience homelessness over different time frames?
    • Could greater coordination with mainstream services — such as TANF, Medicaid, and SNAP — help in assessing the extent to which beneficiaries are currently homeless or have recently experienced homelessness? Can trends be identified?
    • How can we better understand housing status and school mobility using mainstream surveys such as the American Community Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)?
    • Since most homeless children qualify and are enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP programs, could these programs help develop a better understanding of the differential and unique health and mental health care needs of homeless children, thus allowing researchers, program planners, and practitioners to develop a more comprehensive view of the health challenges facing homeless children?
    • Since family separation is high among homeless families, can we use data to learn more about children who are living separately from their homeless parents? For example, could HMIS be expanded to track information about these children and could LEA data include where parents are and if children are not living with them?
  2. Definitions
    • What is the scope of issues and implications related to the definitions of homeless children?
    • Information about programs, services, and educational rights of homeless children is often readily available at HUD-funded family shelters through staff and social workers. How can schools reach out to identify and enroll students who meet different definitions of homelessness?
  3. Education
    • How can we learn more about the costs to transport children to their school of origin and how school districts fund this expense?
    • How can we learn more about the impact of the current method of distributing ED funds to school districts?
    • Are schools a good location to concentrate efforts to help school-age homeless children and their families?
    • How can we better document the services provided to homeless children at schools?
    • What are some promising ways that schools coordinate with social service agencies to assist homeless students and their families?
    • What are some ways to promote quality of services offered by schools?
    • Schools are enrolling unsheltered children but we know little about them, their circumstances, and what services they receive. How are schools identifying this population and addressing the particular needs of unsheltered homeless children?
    • What proportions of homeless children who attend school receive free lunch and free breakfast? Are these programs effective in alleviating food insecurity issues?
    • How do school enrollment questions and needs assessment of homeless children in schools differ? How do these differences impact homeless children and the services they receive?
    • Reports on enrollment of homeless children in pre-K, Head Start, other preschool programs and child care are sparse. Homeless children are categorically eligible to enroll in these programs. How can we develop a better understanding of how many homeless children enroll in these programs? Are there barriers to the enrollment of homeless children in these programs?
  4. Prevention
    • How can we devise programs that are preventive and effectively target for intervention the broad population of at-risk families from which homeless families emerge?
    • Federal programs address the needs of at-risk families on a nationwide scale, and a number of local programs attempt to prevent homelessness. What can we learn from such programs to ameliorate risk factors or enhance protective factors that are linked to family homelessness?
    • What is the impact of federal programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, the Section 8 housing voucher program, and foreclosure prevention programs on at-risk families?  Do programs that provide assistance for basic needs or provide additional income (e.g., EITC) help families secure stable housing and avoid homelessness?
    • Some very important assistance programs, such as SNAP, may be underutilized by children and families that are eligible. How can we make eligible families aware of such programs, and how can we reduce barriers to utilization?
    • Homelessness among families is much lower in Europe than in the United States (Toro et al. 2007; Shinn, 2007). Are there specific strategies used by countries in Europe that are successful, and what can we learn from those strategies?
  5. Research
    • How can we learn more about the effects on homeless children of programs such as transitional housing, permanent family supportive housing, and other programs?
    • How can we learn more about homeless children from existing data sources that do not now focus on homelessness? For example,
      • How can longitudinal studies such as the Panel Study of Income Dynamics be used to provide information about homeless children and their families?
      • How can we best capture information about the most fragile and mobile families?
      • Can we conduct retrospective studies using school, medical, and child protection records for children identified as homeless?
    • How can we learn more about different groups of children from existing data sources that do include homeless children? For example, children who are homeless due to the current economic and foreclosure crisis cannot be currently separated from their peers in HUD and ED data. Can information be gathered on the previous residence of children who become homeless and on parental backgrounds to determine whether children with different histories face different challenges?
    • How can the federal government, states, localities, non-governmental organizations, and researchers work together to identify effective programs to prevent and end homelessness, and evaluate promising and innovative strategies to improve the lives of homeless children and their families?  What structures would facilitate research efforts? How can we disseminate information about what we know works?

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