Poster Paper: Screening for Housing Instability and Homelessness in Early Childhood Settings: Associations with Family Risks and Referrals

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Melissa Kull and Anne Farrell, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

The literature on family housing instability and homelessness has highlighted the importance of a stable home as a crucial ingredient for optimal child and family well-being. Studies find that children who move frequently or experience homeless in the first five years of life have greater developmental challenges throughout elementary school, more exposure to trauma, and a heightened risk for maltreatment. Yet, little empirical research has explored the utility of a screener for family housing instability and homelessness in the early years of children’s lives, when families may be particularly unstable and children could uniquely benefit from housing assistance and other supports. This study examined relations between housing instability, family risks, and caseworker referrals using a brief screener designed for families with young children.

The Quick Risks and Assets for Family Triage-Early Childhood (QRAFT-EC) is a 10-item screening tool including items drawn from two related screeners, the RAFT and QRAFT. The QRAFT was previously used to inform eligibility for a federally funded housing assistance demonstration program for families involved in the child welfare system in Connecticut (Farrell et al., 2017). The QRAFT-EC contains three housing items – current housing, housing condition, and housing history – and seven items on other risks, such as parents’ physical health and children’s Head Start attendance. All items were scored on a 5-point scale ranging from “asset/not a barrier” to “severe barrier.” In partnership with a Head Start program, family service workers (FSWs) at fourteen sites in a moderately-large northeastern city were trained to complete the QRAFT-EC, and data collection lasted five weeks. FSWs reported on each family’s demographics and identified the external services to which families were referred. FSWs completed the QRAFT-EC for 922 families with children participating in Head Start or Early Head Start.

Descriptive analyses showed that 49% of families experienced some housing risk, meaning mild to moderate concerns such as a single eviction, a safe but uncertain housing arrangement, or doubling up. About 3.5% of families experienced significant or severe housing barriers, such as living in transitional housing or a shelter. Logistic regression analyses, controlling for basic family characteristics, revealed that having any housing barriers was significantly associated with the increased likelihood of experiencing other family risks, including worse parental health (odds ratio [OR] = 4.2, p < 0.001), greater employability issues and fewer parenting skills (OR = 3.6, p < 0.001), and inconsistent Head Start attendance (OR = 1.7 p = 0.006). Among families who experienced significant or severe housing barriers (n=32), 93.8% were referred to housing resources, such as eviction prevention or rental assistance programs. Of these families, 71.9% were also referred to other services and resources, such as employment training or family counseling.

Findings speak to the value of screening for housing instability in the early years of children’s lives, especially in light of federal and state mandates that early education programs prioritize children experiencing homelessness and related risks. Connecting families facing such challenges to needed services may help to anchor families and provide children an opportunity to thrive.