Home Visiting Services Help Homeless Families Navigate Children’s Health and Development

Homelessness during early childhood can have long-lasting negative consequences for children’s health and development. It can also heighten levels of parental stress, lead to less responsive parenting, and interfere with parent-child bonding. Providing home visiting services to homeless families with young children, including families living doubled up, could potentially mitigate those adverse impacts. Start Early’s Home Visiting for Homeless Families (HVHF) project aims to 1) remove barriers to home visiting for homeless families, 2) make home visiting programs more responsive to those families’ needs, 3) inform changes in policy and practice, and 4) increase integration and alignment across homeless service providers and home visiting programs. Project partners include eight home visiting programs and two homeless service providers.  Chapin Hall conducted a formative evaluation of the HVHF project funded by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative. 

What We Did

  • We analyzed data reported to Start Early by the eight home visiting programs that are participating in the HVHF project through OunceNet, a web-based data tracking system that captures information about the families the programs serve and the services they provide.  
  • We interviewed 17 home visitors and 12 supervisors from across the 10 HVHF project partners as well as one project consultant.  
  • We also interviewed 13 mothers and one pregnant woman whose families received home visiting services from seven of the 10 HVHF project partners.  

What We Found

  • Mothers who were receiving home visiting services from an HVHF project partner trusted their home visitors and appreciated the emotional, informational, and tangible support they provided.  
  • Mothers also felt that they had benefited from home visiting. These benefits included learning how to promote their children’s development, regulate their emotions, and respond to their children’s behavior in developmentally appropriate ways.  
  • Participating in the project had not increased referrals from homeless service providers and the increased flexibility that the project promised was not always realized.  This was due to a lack of awareness on the part of home visitors or to requirements imposed by funders or model purveyors.  
  • Delivering home visiting services to homeless families presents many challenges to home visitors.  These include communication barriers, lack of privacy, and mistrust of service providers. It also requires extra time and additional effort. 
  • Home visitors often went to great lengths to help homeless families address their basic needs. However, they were frustrated by their inability to assist those families in a meaningful way.  This was due to their lack of knowledge about the systems that homeless families need to navigate to access help.  
  • Home visitors also struggled to focus on parent education when families’ basic needs were unmet.  

What It Means

Our findings suggest that the HVHF project has made progress toward increasing access to home visiting services among homeless families with young children. This is important given the long-lasting adverse effects that homelessness during early childhood can have on developmental outcomes. At the same time, they suggest that additional work is needed to address ongoing challenges to providing home visiting services to families experiencing homelessness, particularly challenges related to families’ unmet basic needs.

Recommended Citation
Dworsky, A., Carreon, E., Griffin, A. M., & McDaniel, B. (2022). Home visiting with families experiencing homelessness. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Home Visiting for Homeless Families Report
Home Visiting for Homeless Families Brief