A recent analysis of Minnesota state-level public program data on children in homeless families demonstrates the positive impact of supportive housing services on educational stability and overall well being. The study, conducted by the Minn-LINK project at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) at the University of Minnesota, tracks and compares the educational and child welfare outcomes of 70 children living with their families in supportive housing, alongside the outcomes of 342 children identified as homeless by school districts over the course of three years. The study period is from 2007 to 2009.
For the purpose of this study, families receiving supportive housing services are those who are offered social services in conjunction with permanent housing, such as job and life skills training, alcohol and drug abuse programs and case management. Homeless students are defined as those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, or who share the housing of other families.
In an effort to better understand the impact of supportive housing services on children’s well-being over time, the study aims to answer the following questions: 1) do supportive housing services affect children’s school attendance rates, school mobility, academic achievement, and rates of Individualized Education Plans (IEP), 2) do supportive housing services reduce child protective services involvement over time, and 3) are the outcomes of children receiving supportive housing services changing at significantly different rates than those of their homeless peers?
According to the authors of the report, the answer to all three questions is yes, to varying degrees. The conclusively positive results are that overall, children living in housing situations that provide rental assistance and family case workers have fewer school transfers, are less involved in reported cases of abuse or neglect and are less likely over time to be removed from their parents' care than homeless children. The researchers hypothesize that the reduction in school mobility is the direct result of receiving housing assistance, while the other supportive services assist with educational and child welfare outcomes.
As for less pronounced results, attendance rates were generally higher for children receiving services, but not across the board. The number of students with an IEP, a helpful tool for students with disabilities, increased for students with and without supportive housing services, although the number increased at a faster rate for children with supportive housing services. Finally, academic achievement as measured by test results showed minimal positive association with performance in reading and mixed results in math.
The authors note that mixed findings may be a result of a small sample size and point out that mixed results are common in educational studies. They further emphasize that these children live in families dealing with severe challenges and any positive movement is relevant.
The report concludes by suggesting greater investigation into the long-term relationship between supportive housing services and school outcomes. They also suggest additional services targeted toward academic achievement, such as tutoring services, increased access to academic resources (such as computers, printers, etc.), as well as stronger communication between school systems and supportive housing services.
The report, The Role of Supportive Housing in Homeless Children’s Well-Being: An Investigation of Child Welfare and Educational Outcomes, can be found on the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare’s (CASCW) webpage at http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ssw/cascw/attributes/PDF/minnlink/Report_No11.pdf.