Homeless Families Research Brief: Child Separation Among Families Experiencing Homelessness

Families who use emergency shelters are more likely than poor, housed families to experience separations between children and their custodial parents (Cowal et al., 2002). Family composition may change over time. For example, a parent may send his or her children to live in what he or she perceives to be a safer environment with relatives or family friends rather than subjecting children to the experience of a shelter. In other cases, child welfare agencies may have removed children from their parent’s custodial care. Compared with housed families in the same city, children who enter emergency shelter are more likely to have a subsequent out-of-family placement (Park et al., 2004; Cowal et al., 2002; Hayes, Zonneville and Bassuk, 2013).

A previous brief in this series found that in 24 percent of families staying in shelter, at least one child was separated from the family (Walton, Dunton and Groves, 2017). This brief provides a more detailed examination of these families and their children before and after the initial shelter stay, revealing more extensive and persistent levels of child separation. It gives detailed characteristics of separated children and examines whether future child separation after a shelter stay is related to either housing instability or previous separations.

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