Abstract: How Can Home Visiting Programs Better Support Families Experiencing Homelessness? (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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How Can Home Visiting Programs Better Support Families Experiencing Homelessness?

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Paradise Valley, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Erin Carreon, M.A., Researcher, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Amanda M. Griffin, PhD, Researcher, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Beth McDaniel, PhD, Policy Analyst, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Amy Dworsky, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Research indicates that homelessness during early childhood can have long-lasting negative consequences on children both directly and indirectly through its effects on parenting. Studies also show that evidence-based home visiting can have positive effects on a range of parent and child outcomes. Although homeless families could potentially benefit from home visiting services, several factors, including high rates of mobility, documentation requirements, competing priorities, lack of awareness, and distrust of service providers, could make it difficult for those families to enroll and engage in home visiting programs.

Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 home visitors and 12 home visiting supervisors from 10 home visiting programs participating in the HVHF project. We also interviewed 14 parents experiencing homelessness—some staying in shelters and others living doubled up--who were receiving home visiting services from 7 of those programs. We audio-recorded and transcribed the interviews, coded the transcripts in altas.ti, and identified themes using respondent-by-code matrices.

Results: Home visitors found it challenging to meaningfully respond to the complex needs of families experiencing homelessness within the context of an under-resourced social safety net and in the absence of an adequate supply of safe and affordable housing. During home visits, managing crises often took priority over educating parents about caring for and supporting the development of their children. Home visitors expressed a desire for training on resources they can leverage to help families address their housing and other basic needs. Parents reported a deep sense of connection with their home visitors. They appreciated both the nonjudgmental emotional support that home visitors provide and their flexibility regarding the location and timing of visits. However, parents also acknowledged that their home visitors could not address many of their needs, particularly their need for a safe and affordable place to live.

Conclusions and Implications: Our evaluation indicates that home visiting services can be delivered to families experiencing homelessness and that home visitors can play a vital role by providing those families with parenting and child development education, baby supplies, referrals to other services, and emotional support. However, home visitors lack the training and resources to address the myriad needs of homeless families, especially their need for housing. These findings suggest that an adequate supply of safe and affordable housing is essential if families with young children are to fully benefit from home visiting and other early childhood supports. They also suggest that home visitors need both the training and flexibility to respond to the priority needs of families experiencing homelessness.