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Research Brief: Adolescent Well-Being After Experiencing Family Homelessness

Adolescence is a developmental period when rapid physical, mental, social and psychological changes occur. As parents, teachers and other caregivers can attest, navigating these changes successfully can be challenging. But for adolescents who also experience family homelessness or housing instability, the lack of stable, permanent housing can create lasting consequences.

A new research brief from Abt Global examines what these challenges are among adolescent youth experiencing homelessness, the impacts on their well-being, and what might be done to address the gaps.

Jessica Thornton Walker of Abt Global, and Scott R. Brown and Marybeth Shinn of Vanderbilt University discuss the challenges these adolescents continue to face after a shelter stay, including ongoing housing instability, increases in school mobility and absenteeism, and decreases in student grades as well as positive school attitudes. Additionally, after a shelter stay, parents reported that their adolescent children were more likely to exhibit problem behaviors than their peers nationally at all income levels.

The brief is one of a series commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that draw on the Family Options Study to inform HHS and HHS grantees about strategies for preventing and ending homelessness among families, children, and youth. Other briefs in the series will include patterns of homelessness among Hispanic families and young children’s experiences with homelessness and early care and education. An earlier brief on whether families who experience homelessness are connected to the social safety net was published in April.

The analysis conducted in the brief is based on data collected for the Family Options Study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and led by Abt Global. The study involved 2,282 homeless families with children who entered a homeless shelter between late 2010 and early 2012 in one of 12 communities across the United States.

“Some efforts have been made to improve the well-being of adolescents who experience homelessness, particularly policies that have been put into place to limit school mobility and find transportation solutions to keep these youth in their current schools,” said Jessica Thornton Walker, Social and Economic Policy Division associate. “From our analysis, though, there are clearly areas where youth who experience homelessness are struggling. We hope this research helps inform policy and programmatic decisions to improve outcomes for these youth.”

Read more about the Family Options study.
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