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Child and Partner Transitions among Families Experiencing Homelessness

Douglas Walton, Lauren Dunton, Lincoln Groves


July 17, 2017

New Brief from Family Options Study Examines Separations
and Reunification Among Families Experiencing Homelessness

Child and Partner Transitions among Families Experiencing HomelessnessFamilies who use emergency shelter often experience separations between mothers and children before, during and after their shelter stay. While the reasons for separations vary, being separated from parents during childhood can be a predictor of future homelessness in adulthood.

In a new brief from Abt Global, the Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation and the Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation, researchers examined separations between parents and their children, as well as adult partners and spouses during a stay in emergency shelter. The team tracked additional separations and reunifications in the following 20 months after shelter stay.

Findings indicate:

  • About 30 percent of sheltered homeless families reported separation from at least one family member. Older children were more likely to be separated from the parent in shelter than younger children.
  • Family transitions continued in the 20 months after stay in emergency shelter. Thirty-nine percent of families with an adult partner at baseline reported that the partner was not with the family 20 months later, greater than the 27 percent reported in shelter.
  • Placements of children in the child welfare system were rare while families were in emergency shelter; however, these placements grew over time after a shelter stay. Less than one percent of families reported a child in foster care during shelter stay, however, 20 months later, about three percent of families reported at least one child had been placed in foster care in the past six months.
  • Family separations are related to housing instability. Families who were separated from children while in shelter experienced more instability over the next 20 months.
  • Additional housing instability following families’ initial stay in shelter was associated with child separations 20 months later. Thirty-seven percent of families who experienced housing instability reported a child separated from the family at 20 months.

The findings draw on data from the Family Options Study and the Survey of Income and Program Participation. This is the fourth brief associated with the series of Homeless Families Research Briefs.

North America