In a recent study, The National Center on Family Homelessness (The National Center) was able to identify two predictors for long-term residential instability, providing new insights into the outcomes of homeless families. The new study, Service and Housing Interventions for Families in Transition (The SHIFT Study), has identified new information to help create effective ways to help families maintain residential stability.
The intent of the SHIFT study was to examine residential stability of families over time, comparing families staying in emergency shelter, transitional housing or permanent supportive housing. The SHIFT study was conducted from 2007 to 2010 in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Albany, indicating that the findings are representative of other mid-sized cities. SHIFT included 292 families at baseline, interviewing mothers about themselves and their children, and re-interviewing them at fifteen months (192 families) and thirty months (184 families).
One of the most striking findings was that trauma was one of only two predictors of residential instability after thirty months. “At fifteen months, there were four significant predictors for residential instability: unemployment lower level of education, poor health and lower self-esteem. At thirty months, the only predictors were the severity of trauma symptoms and lower self-esteem,”said Dr. Carmela DeCandia, Director of The National Center. Additionally, SHIFT found that 93 percent of the mothers had a history of trauma. “This is consistent with the Worcester Study, where 93 percent of adult females were found to have histories of trauma. The SHIFT study goes a step further and has identified a link to residential instability at thirty months. The implications are clear, if we are to address long-term residential instability for homeless families, we must address trauma, otherwise they likely won’t stabilize.”
Interpersonal victimization was the most prevalent type of trauma. Half of the mothers had been sexually abused as children and two-thirds had been physically abused in their lifetime. “The SHIFT Study provides us with a much better understanding of the effect of trauma among homeless families,”said Dr. Maureen Hayes, senior researcher at The National Center. “Previous studies have revealed that trauma is common among mothers in homeless families, but it was not understood how – or even if – it impacted a family’s functioning and ability to stabilize. This is the first study to find that trauma is not merely a characteristic of these mothers, but its severity also impacts a family’s ability to maintain residential stability. The families with mothers suffering from severe trauma symptoms, then, will not benefit from any programs or services unless their trauma is recognized and effectively addressed.”
With this in mind, The National Center recommends that service providers be educated to the prevalence of trauma, its formative nature as a predictor of long-term residential instability, and be given tools to help clients understand and cope with that trauma, including the implementation of trauma-informed care.
Dr. DeCandia detailed that recommendation: “It is important that the entire service system understand how to provide trauma-informed care, so that no matter what door a homeless family walks through, they can be assured a basic level of appropriate care. Trauma-informed care is a cost-effective organizational response to the extraordinarily high rates of trauma in this population. It’s an investment in training the workforce to improve its responsiveness to families. Plus, it is important providers assess the entire family, including the kids, to identify early on who is most affected by trauma and related issues. This is not currently standard practice, but it should be.” Training for trauma-informed care is available through several providers, including the National Center on Family Homelessness.
Bassuk, E. L., & Geller, S. (2006). The role of housing and services in ending family homelessness. Housing Policy Debate, 17(4), 781-806.
Service and Housing Interventions for Homeless Families in Transition (SHIFT) Study 2007-2010, National Center on Family Homelessness.
Williams, J. K., & Hall, J. A. (2009). Stress and traumatic stress: How do past events influence current traumatic stress among homeless mothers experiencing homelessness? Social Work Research, 33(4), 199-207.
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