Gender Issues

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 157–172 | Cite as

Invisible Mothers: Parenting by Homeless Women Separated from Their Children

  • Susan M. BarrowEmail author
  • Nicole D. Laborde
Original Article


Though surveys repeatedly demonstrate that most women who are homeless alone have minor children living apart from them, there is little information on the circumstances of their separations or whether and how they remain involved with their children. Analysis of data from in-depth interviews with mothers, relatives caring for their children, and shelter and child welfare staff highlights a tension between perspectives and aspirations of mothers and the agendas and social processes through which institutional systems manage the family life of women marginalized by homelessness and disability. Though women’s agency is evident in their efforts to maintain parenting roles, without facilitating resources and supportive structures, agency is often reduced to unpalatable choices among constraining alternatives. We consider how service systems might mitigate barriers to mothering as well as broader changes needed to genuinely support women’s aspirations for themselves and their families.


Homeless women Homeless mothers Mothering Family separations Homeless services 



Alicia Diaz provided invaluable assistance in conducting interviews. The study was funded by the Center for the Study of Issues in Public Mental Health at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research as part of a center grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (P50 MH51359). It was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, The Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, and Project Renewal.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New York State Psychiatric Institute and Mailman School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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