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Well-being of Young Children after Experiencing Homelessness

Scott R. Brown, Marybeth Shinn and Jill Khadduri


March 14, 2017

What happens to children after they have experienced homelessness? As part of the Family Options Study, this brief draws on data collected on 925 children ages 18 to 59 months (less than five years old) in 819 families. Data were collected 20 months after families had entered the study during a stay in an emergency shelter and include responses by parents to survey questions and direct assessments of child development.

Highlights include:

  • 20 months after staying in an emergency shelter with their families, children scored worse in pre-reading skills and had higher rates of overall behavior problems and early development delays compared to national norms for children their age. However, they displayed only small disadvantages in pre-math skills, and for some types of behavioral challenges their rates were similar to national norms.
  • Unstable housing arrangements remained common during the 20 months following a stay in emergency shelter, with 41 percent of families reporting that, during the past six months, they had been in a shelter or a place not suitable for human habitation, had doubled up in someone else’s housing unit, or had moved at least once.
  • Children who had more stable recent housing situations and more stable child care arrangements displayed fewer behavior problems 20 months after a shelter stay than those who did not.
  • Enrollment in early education and center-based care was lower for families who had experienced housing instability in the past six months compared to those who had been stably re-housed. However, housing instability did not appear to be associated with lower enrollment in Head Start programs.
  • Children ages three and four who were enrolled in Head Start or other early education and center-based care displayed stronger pre-math and pre-reading skills than those who were only in parental care.

This research brief is part of a series. Other briefs cover adolescent well-being and families use of safety net services.