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The Problem of Homeless Children in Society

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Child and Family Predictors of Academic Functioning in Homeless Children by Wayne Holden and Evangeline Danseco

This study looked into the differential predictors of homeless children’s educational achievement status. Involving 127 homeless children who were beneficiaries of the comprehensive health care program for homeless children (Holden, 1996, p. 3), the study looked into the effects of factors such as age, gender, and maternal educational level and then moved on to analyze the influence of intellectual, behavioral, and emotional factors.

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It also looked into the effects of major life stressors and residential instability. The mothers underwent structured interviews and were made to complete the Child Behavior Checklist and the Parenting Stress Index. The children, on the other hand, were assessed using the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Children’s Depression Inventory, and the Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised (Holden, 1996, p. 4, 5). Results of the study showed that age, gender, and maternal education were important predictors of the academic achievement of homeless children, but the most significant is cognitive functioning. Emotional distress and behavioral problems were found to be important factors (Holden, 1996, p. 5).

Homelessness and its Effects on Children by Ellen Hart-Shego’s

Homelessness affects every aspect of a person. Carried through unhealthy pregnancies, homeless children are often born with low birth rates and at greater risk of death. As infants, they are exposed to factors that can endanger their lives. As toddlers, they exhibit developmental delays, and as pre-schoolers, they are more likely to develop emotional problems (Hart-Shegos, 1999, p. 2, 4). By the time they start going to school, homeless children may already have suffered and are suffering physical, emotional, and psychological damage (Hart-Shegos, 1999, p. 2, 5).

In general, they are more likely to have more health problems than children who are housed. They are also more likely to be malnourished. And, having experienced stressful and traumatic events that their young minds cannot understand, they are prone to emotional distress and mental health problems (Hart-Shegos, p. 2, 6–7). They have poor cognitive development, and hence, their academic performance is hampered. Despite this bleak picture, there is still hope that homeless children can overcome the negative effects of their homelessness through early and consistent intervention strategies, which may include giving homeless families priority access to services such as supportive housing, drug, and alcohol treatment, parenting support, and assisting them in getting health and nutrition information, monitoring children development, and so on (Hart-Shegos, p. 2, 8–11).

Cognitive and Academic Functioning of Homeless Children Compared With Housed Children by David Rubin et al

Involving 278 children and their mothers, 102 of whom lived in shelters while the rest were housed, this study looked into the effect of homelessness on the cognitive and academic functioning of children aged 6 to 11 years (Rubin, 1996, p. 289). Carried out between August 1990 and August 1992, this study compared the two groups using standardized cognitive and academic performance instruments, controlling for such factors as race, sex, family status, and social class (Rubin, 1996, p. 290).

It was found that there was no significant difference in the verbal and nonverbal intelligence of the two groups (where verbal intelligence was estimated using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the nonverbal intelligence was estimated using the Raven’s Progressive Matrices). However, the homeless children’s academic achievement, as measured by the Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised, was significantly poorer in reading, spelling, and arithmetic (Rubin, 1996, p. 292). The study concluded that although no significant difference in cognitive functioning between the two groups was found, the homeless performed more poorly than housed children in activities testing academic performance (Rubin, 1996, p. 293).

Homeless Children: Are They Different from Other Low-Income Children? by Carol Ziesemer

This study compared the academic performance, adaptive functioning, and problem behaviors of homeless children to those of children with low socio-economic status (SES). Using the Achenbach and Edelbrock Teacher Report Form and the Harter Self-Perception Profile for Children, the study involved 287 elementary school-age children — 145 of whom were homeless at one point in their lives, while the rest were mobile children who came from poor families (Ziesemer, 1994, p. 659). The study found that within the groups, the children showed a range of academic and psychological functioning, wherein about 30 percent of them were within the normal range; and that there were no significant differences between homeless and low SES-mobile children. The study did note, however, that when the children’s scores were taken together, their scores significantly differed from norms. According to the authors, the findings of the study suggest that homelessness is stressful for children; however, long-term poverty seems to be the more important marker of risk in children (pp. 668).

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Comparison and contrast

The four studies are closely related to each other, they being all concerned about the plight of homeless children. Although they used different methodologies, answered different questions, and used different measures, there are some startling similarities in their findings.

Of the four, Ziesemer’s and Rubin’s are most closely related with each other, as both made use of direct comparisons: Rubin (1999) compared homeless children with children from low-income children, while Holden compared homeless children with housed children. There is parallelism as well as contrast in the studies’ findings: both found that the two groups compared did not have significant differences in some respects, but there are salient differences in some other respects. In Rubin’s, it was found that although both groups have more or less the same cognitive abilities, the homeless children performed much poorly in academic achievement tests. In Ziesemer et al, (1994) it was found that the two groups of children performed almost the same way in some of the tests, but the effect of long-term poverty was more significant than the effect of homelessness.

The other two studies, on the other hand, are less closely related to each other than the other two studies. Holden (1996) focused on the effects of environmental and internal factors on the academic achievement of homeless children, whereas, Hash-Shegos (1999) focused on the general effects of homelessness on children’s nutrition, physical, mental and emotional health, and academic performance.

Of the four, it is only Hart-Shegos (1999) that gave a ray of hope toward the end of her study, where she mentioned that the homeless children’s plight may be reversed through early and consistent intervention. She then proceeded to give some of the interventions she had in mind.

Finally, all studies give significant insights into the things homeless children go through. These insights are definitely important for agencies involved in planning, structuring, and implementing interventions and help to the homeless children.


Hart-Shegos, E. (1999). Homelessness and its Effects on Children. Web.

Holden, E. W. and Danseco, E. R. (1996). Child and Family Predictors of Academic Functioning in Homeless Children. Web.

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Rubin, D., et al. (1996). Cognitive and Academic Functioning of Homeless Children Compared With Housed Children. Pediatrics, Vol. 97, No. 3, pp. 289–294.

Ziesemer, C. and Marcoux, L. (1994). Homeless children: Are they different from other low-income children? Social Work, No. 39, pp. 658–669.

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