Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 94–108 | Cite as

How Does Homelessness Affect Parenting Behaviour? A Systematic Critical Review and Thematic Synthesis of Qualitative Research

  • Caroline BradleyEmail author
  • John McGowan
  • Daniel Michelson


The adverse social and physical conditions of homelessness pose significant developmental risks for children, which may be compounded or buffered by the quality of parenting behaviour they are exposed to. There is currently a limited understanding of how parents approach their care-giving role and responsibilities while adjusting to the experience of homelessness. Advancing knowledge in this area is essential for developing acceptable, appropriate and effective interventions to support highly marginalised and vulnerable homeless families. This review explored homeless parents’ perceptions of how homelessness affects their parenting behaviour and identified adaptive strategies that parents may use to mitigate the potentially negative impacts of homelessness on the quality of care-giving. A systematic search of four electronic databases (ASSIA, PsycINFO, Web of Science and MEDLINE) identified 13 published qualitative studies, all originating from the USA, which explored parenting behaviour in homeless contexts. The studies were critically appraised using the CASP qualitative assessment tool. Thematic synthesis identified the following determinants of parenting behaviour; negative self-concept in the parental role, parental mental health, material resources, challenges to autonomy and self-efficacy, daily hassles, physical environment and service context, stigma, child characteristics and lack of support. These were synthesised thematically using existing models of parenting determinants and positive parenting. Findings indicate substantive impacts of homelessness on parental mental health, parenting authority, material resources, parenting environments and social support. Parents developed a number of adaptive methods to negotiate the challenges of homeless parenting such as maintaining a positive mindset, cherishing the parental role and developing practical strategies. We conclude with recommendations that service providers should tailor parenting support to resource-constrained circumstances and that further research is required in order to better understand experiences of homeless parents in other international contexts.


Homelessness Parenting Qualitative Systematic review Meta-synthesis 



This research formed part of the lead author’s Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (D.Clin.Psychol.) at Canterbury Christ Church University, with funding provided through Surrey and Borders NHS Partnership Trust, UK.


This review was initiated as part of first author’s Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University, with funding from Surrey and Borders NHS Trust, UK.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Bradley
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • John McGowan
    • 1
  • Daniel Michelson
    • 3
  1. 1.Salomons Centre for Applied PsychologyCanterbury Christ Church UniversityTunbridge WellsUK
  2. 2.The Tavistock CentreLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Population Health, Centre for Global Mental HealthLondon School of Hygiene & Tropical MedicineLondonUK

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