New Research on Homelessness and Parenting
By Virginia Hartman
For mental health and substance abuse counselors and clinicians, keeping at-risk families together can be a challenge in the best of circumstances. If parents and children are experiencing homelessness, the challenge is even greater. Yet prior research on homelessness has focused only minimally on families and the role of parenting.
To help, SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center (HRC) recently guest-edited a Special Section of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Released in October 2009, all 10 articles are downloadable at no charge from the HRC Web site. (See below for more information.)
This Special Section fills a significant gap. The research articles and editorials provide important insights into the needs of parents and children who are experiencing homelessness.
“Our goal on this project was to offer cutting-edge research and information,” said Deborah Stone, Ph.D., SAMHSA’s HRC Project Officer at the Homeless and Co-Occurring Programs Branch at SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS). “We wanted to bring up some of the issues people are talking about. In the past, CMHS focused primarily on the chronically homeless individual. However, we decided to expand that focus and look at families—because in the field service providers work with families as well as individuals.”
In the Overview and Introduction to the Special Section, authors Ellen L. Bassuk, M.D., and Kristin Paquette cite statistics, summarize the changing needs of families who are homeless, and emphasize the importance of parenting as a central identity. They also highlight the research findings, insights, and possible interventions encompassed in the articles that follow.
Research topics addressed in the Special Section include:
- Social supports and nontraditional family networks among families who are homeless
- Evidence-based mental health interventions that empower parents and provide safety and structure for children experiencing homelessness
- Interrelationships between homelessness and foster care
- The impact of homelessness on families who experience other behavioral health problems.
In addition to research studies, two of the articles are personal commentaries. One parent who had experienced homelessness, Gladys Fonfield-Ayinla, wrote, “Homelessness is a situation, not a personality trait. It does not make a person any less capable of being a loving parent.” A pediatric nurse practitioner, Betty Schulz, P.N.P.-B.C., also provided a commentary on the challenges and successes of her work.
Other research and review articles include policy, practice, and research recommendations on ways to help parents stabilize their lives, care for their children, and move out of homelessness.
SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center is dedicated to improving the daily lives of people who are homeless and who have mental illness, substance use problems, co-occurring disorders, or trauma histories. HRC’s work includes onsite and virtual training (on the Web), technical assistance, knowledge products, and an interactive Web 2.0 site targeted to direct service providers. (See SAMHSA News online, July/August 2008.)
Download each article in PDF format. Find out more about HRC.
The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry is a publication of the American Psychological Association.