Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Role of Housing Instability and Family Services for Children Living in Non-Parental Care

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 3:50 PM
Miami Lecture Hall (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sara Schmitt, Purdue University and Shannon T. Lipscomb, Oregon State University, Cascades
Introduction: Children who live in non-parental care (live with someone other than a biological, adoptive, or step-parent) experience a range of risks, including instability in their home environments, which can negatively impact development (Rubin et a., 2007). The majority of this work has focused on foster care placement instability and suggests that unstable placements put children at increased risk for poor outcomes (Rubin et al., 2007). Although this information is valuable, scant research has focused on a related, yet distinct source of instability: housing/residential instability. Recent work indicates that moving, particularly during early childhood, predicts lower levels of behavioral regulation for young children (Schmitt et al., 2015). Because children living in non-parental care are at elevated risk for developing behavior problems, moving may have an even larger effect on this domain for this subgroup, and experiencing housing stability could help protect children from negative behavioral outcomes. Another potential protective factor for this population may be the receipt of family services. Although research suggests that these children often do not receive adequate supportive services (Simms et al., 2010), it is possible that those who do may fare better behaviorally. The current study examines whether housing instability and receipt of family services during prekindergarten play a role for the development of internalizing and externalizing behaviors in kindergarten for children living in non-parental care.

Sample: This study utilized data from the Head Start Impact Study. We investigated the role of family service receipt (M = 3.02 months, SD = 1.15) and housing instability during prekindergarten (no moves = 61%; 1 or more moves = 39%) for a subgroup of children living in non-parental care (N = 278; 53% male). Mean child age was 48.26 months (SD = 6.99). Parent education levels were: 44% < high school; 36% high school; and 20% > high school.

Methods: Data were collected in the fall and spring of prekindergarten, and the spring of kindergarten. In the fall of prekindergarten, parents reported on demographic characteristics, and in the spring of prekindergarten, parents reported on housing instability in the last year. Parents also reported on receipt of family services (e.g., mental health services). Teachers rated internalizing and externalizing behaviors in the spring of prekindergarten and kindergarten using the Adjustment Scales for Preschool Intervention (ASPI; Lutz et al., 2002).

Results: Regression analysis was used to test all hypotheses. Interaction terms (housing instability*service receipt) were entered into regression models to test for moderating effects. The “cluster” command was utilized to account for nesting of children within child care centers. Main effects models (Model 1 in Tables 1 and 2) indicated that housing instability had a direct effect on externalizing behaviors: children who experienced housing instability during prekindergarten demonstrated more externalizing behaviors in kindergarten. A significant interaction term also emerged, indicating that children who did not move during prekindergarten and experienced more family services had the lowest frequency of internalizing problems in kindergarten (see Figure 1). These results have implications for coordinating housing and service systems for children living in non-parental care.