Homeless Families and Child Welfare


  • From Poverty to Child Welfare Involvement: The Critical Role of Housing in Family Stability
    In this NASW Children, Youth & Families Practice Update, Roxana Torrico discusses economic barriers to the well-being of vulnerable families, how housing needs put children at risk of entering the child welfare system, how housing instability delays family reunification, and what social workers can do to ensure that families obtain permanent housing and economic security. (September 2009)
  • Best Practices in Homeless Education: School Selection for Students in Out-of-Home Care
    This brief provides a framework for local homeless education liaisons, educators, child welfare caseworkers, and other child welfare advocates for assessing best interest when selecting a school for students in out-of-home care. While the brief focuses on students "awaiting foster care placement" under the McKinney-Vento Act, it provides information relevant to school selection and school stability for all children and youth in out-of-home care. (2009)
  • Commentary: A Consumer Perspective on Parenting While Homeless
    The author describes her experiences of domestic violence, homelessness, and the services and programs she was forced to rely upon. Now a graduate with a Human Service degree, her plan is to work to change policies related to homelessness. She wants to help prevent senseless family homelessness, especially when prevention is possible and much less costly. The author describes changes that could be made to benefit homeless service programs. (2009)
  • Commentary: A Provider Perspective on Supporting Parents Who Are Homeless
    In this article, the author shares her experience with two families her team met at emergency shelters, one several years ago, and one recently. She suggests that interventions for families should include models focused on building enduring, loving relationships, and lists goals that housing and homelessness programs should strive to meet. (2009)
  • Parenting and Homelessness: Overview and Introduction to the Special Section
    This overview of parenting and homelessness includes the characteristics and needs of families who are homeless, with a focus on the unique challenges faced by mothers, fathers, and children. In addition, the authors discuss how homeless families are narrowly defined based on the family members who present at shelters and other service programs. In order to fully support parents and their children as they exit homelessness, homeless service programs should consider the broader context of the nontraditional family system and support networks. The overview also includes common challenges to parenting while homeless, a summary of the articles in the Special Section, and recommendations for research, practice, and policy. (2009)

Research and Reports

  • Alone Without a Home: A State-by-State Review of Laws Affecting Unaccompanied Youth
    Alone Without a Home, a report by the Law Center and the National Network for Youth reveals a disturbing truth: 1.6 million youth experience homelessness without a parent or guardian each year, facing numerous barriers to meeting basic needs. This report explains why these youth become homeless and reviews current laws affecting them in all 50 states and 6 U.S. territories. Common causes include severe family conflict, parental abuse or neglect, parental mental health issues, and substance abuse. Prior to leaving home, almost half of all unaccompanied youth report being beaten by a caretaker, while one out of four had caretakers request sexual activity. The rights of unaccompanied youth widely vary from state to state, and it is often difficult for youth and homeless service providers to clarify their legal protections and eligibility for housing, health care, and education services. Moreover, many unaccompanied youth do not seek out help because they assume they will be turned away, or even fear being taken into state custody. The report recommends eliminating laws that criminally punish unaccompanied youth as runaways or truants, in favor of policies that divert them from court involvement. It also calls on states to expand access to housing, health care, education, and other stabilizing services. This includes allowing youth to contract for housing, receive medical treatment, and enroll in school without parental consent. (September 2012)

  • The Role of Supportive Housing in Homeless Children’s Well-Being: An Investigation of Child Welfare and Educational Outcomes
    This publication from Minnesota – Linking information for Kids, by Hong and Piescher, evaluates children’s experiences of homelessness and access to supportive housing services as they relate to child well-being over time. It discusses the availability of services to homeless families and the receipt of supportive housing services. (2012)
  • Conducting Filial Therapy With Homeless Parents
    This article's purpose is to educate clinicians about the psychological complexities of homelessness with parents and their children and highlight the benefits of using filial therapy as an evidence-based intervention with this population. (2009)
  • Effects of Social Support and Conflict on Parenting Among Homeless Mothers
    This study examined the impact of conflict and social support on parenting behaviors in a sample of mothers who are homeless and were involved in a study of case management interventions of varying intensity. Results suggest that social support may enhance homeless mothers’ ability to provide consistent parenting, but that these benefits may be undermined if conflict occurs in combination with limited levels of instrumental social support. (2009)
  • Contexts of Mother-Child Separations in Homeless Families
    Families that contend with the losses, disruptions, and hardships occasioned by homelessness often experience dispersal of children as well. Although a federal initiative on homeless families identified family preservation as a focus of intervention development, there is little research to guide service efforts. This qualitative study of mother-child separations in homeless families with maternal mental health and/or substance use problems identifies precursors of separations (precarious housing, turbulent relationships, substance abuse by mothers and others, institutional confinement, and children’s needs) and examines how mothers’ responses to these events and conditions interact with social and institutional contexts to shape variations in the course and outcome of separations. Implications for research, services, and policies affecting homeless families are discussed. This article by Susan M. Barrow and Terese Lawinski was published in Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. (2009)
  • Parenting, Parental Mental Health, and Child Functioning in Families Residing in Supportive Housing
    Long-term homelessness is associated with other psychosocial risk factors (e.g., adult mental illness, substance abuse, and exposure to violence). All of these factors are associated with impairments in parenting effectiveness and child adjustment. Data are reported from a multi-method study of 200 children in 127 families residing in supportive housing agencies in a large metro area. (2009)
  • Homeless Children and Youth: Causes and Consequences
    The number of homeless families with children and unaccompanied youth has increased in recent years due to the lack of affordable housing, and compounded by the current economic recession. What are the consequences? What has to be done for better outcomes of children and youth who experience homelessness? (2009)
  • Family Unification Program: Serving Homeless and At-Risk Homeless Families and Youth
    This article from Strengthening At Risk and Homeless Young Mothers and Children explains the intersection of homelessness and child welfare, and highlights a program that provides housing choice vouchers to communities to help preserve and reunify families in the child welfare system and assist in the transition of youth aging out of care. Components of the program are described, as well as findings from an evaluation of the program that investigated the impact of the program on homeless families with children.  (2009)
  • Child Welfare Involvement among Children in Homeless Families
    An analysis of 8,251 homeless children in New York City found that 18% of them received child welfare services over the five-year period following their first shelter admission, and an additional 6% had a history of having received such services before their first shelter admission. Recurrent use of public shelters, exposure to domestic violence, older age at first episode of homelessness, and larger number of children in a household were associated with an increased risk of child welfare involvement. The high rate of crossover between homelessness and the child welfare system suggests the need for service coordination for children in homeless families. This article by Ung Min Park, Stephen Metraux, Gabriel Broadbar, and Dennis P. Culhane was published in Child Welfare Vol. 83, Issue 5. (2004)

From the States: Policies, Practices, Programs, and Resources

  • Massachusetts: Homeless Child Care Services
    Homeless child care is a program that gives child care assistance to families living in homeless shelters. The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) is in charge of the program. The purpose of the program is to give homeless parents time to look for permanent housing, go to school or job training, or work.


  • Homelessness Resource Center
    The Homelessness Resource Center (HRC) is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The National Center on Family Homelessness collaborates with its sister organization, the Center for Social Innovation, to operate the HRC.
  • The National Center on Family Homelessness
    The National Center on Family Homelessness conducts research, identifies and disseminates best practices and innovative solutions, and raises public awareness about the unique needs of homeless families. Their initiatives include: public education and policy, program design, training and technical assistance and research and evaluation.

The National Center on Family Homelessness launched the Campaign to End Child Homelessness in 2009. Visit the Resources and Publications page for information and tools.


Last updated 3/5/13