Abstract: Housing Insecurity and Adolescent Well-Being: A Moderated Mediation Model of Family Supports and System Contacts (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Housing Insecurity and Adolescent Well-Being: A Moderated Mediation Model of Family Supports and System Contacts

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Katherine Marçal, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
Background and Purpose: Housing insecurity is endemic among low-income, marginalized families throughout the U.S. Nearly half of renters were cost-burdened by housing in 2018, defined as paying at least 30% of their household income toward rent. A large body of research links housing problems with emotional and behavioral problems among young children, but less is known about this link among adolescents. Unstably housed families are more likely to come into contact with various social systems, but the roles of these contacts in linking housing insecurity with adolescent outcomes are unknown. Furthermore, the impact of supports such as welfare or employment assistance for low-income families are not well understood. Families seeking assistance may receive needed supports, but also face heightened scrutiny leading to criminal justice or child welfare involvement that may adversely impact development. The present study tested whether the link from housing insecurity to criminal justice or child welfare system contact depended on receipt of formal supports, and whether system contacts mediated the link from housing insecurity to adolescent outcomes. Findings will illuminate pathways by which youth develop emotional or behavioral problems among high-risk families.

Methods: Data came from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, which followed a large sample of families with children born 1998-2000. The analytic sample for the present study was limited to families in which the biological mother had at least partial custody of the focal child at the Year 5 interview (N = 2,892; 98% of the full sample). Structural equation modeling with latent variables estimated a measurement model using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and a structural model testing direct and indirect pathways from housing insecurity to adolescent depression and delinquency via contact with the criminal justice and child welfare systems. A moderated mediation model tested whether the links from housing insecurity to criminal justice contact and child welfare contact depended on families’ access to supports.

Results: Results of the CFA showed observed variables were valid indicators for latent constructs (housing insecurity, adolescent delinquency, and adolescent depression; RMSEA = 0.02, CFI = 0.98, SRMR = 0.02). Results of the initial structural model indicated excellent fit to the data (RMSEA = 0.02, CFI = 0.96, SRMR = 0.03). Housing insecurity was directly associated with adolescent delinquency (β = 0.07, p < 0.05) and depression (β = 0.08, p < 0.05), and indirectly associated with delinquency via criminal justice contact (β = 0.01, p < 0.01). The moderated mediation model indicated that both welfare and employment supports moderated the link between housing insecurity and criminal justice contact, such that more supports increased likelihood of criminal justice contact.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings indicate financial and employment supports for low-income families increase the impact of housing insecurity on mothers’ criminal justice involvement, which mediates the link between housing insecurity and adolescent delinquency. Assistance programs may increase surveillance on families and thus likelihood for sanctioning by the criminal justice system. Providers and systems working with low-income, insecurely housed families must consider the stigma faced by clients seeking assistance.