Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness: Analysis of Current Practice
Although research indicates that families experiencing homelessness struggle with both structural needs (e.g., housing and income) and psychosocial issues, the assessment process varies considerably among programs serving these families. Historically, the assessment of homeless families has focused narrowly on structural needs; parental functioning, parenting capacity, and child development are often overlooked. In this study, we systematically evaluated the initial intake and assessment process of a convenience sample of 55 emergency shelters, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing programs serving homeless families. We recruited our sample by randomly selecting 100 geographically diverse agencies from a list of 200 that met criteria for inclusion in this study. Based on the evidence about the characteristics and needs of homeless families, we developed a bivariate (yes/no) rating tool of the intake protocols that had eight domains: demographics, immediate safety needs, housing and homelessness, self-sufficiency, service use, parental functioning, child developmental status, and use of standardized screening instruments. Domains were rated as strong, adequate, or deficient, and then aggregated into a composite score for each program. Study findings indicated that 93% of the programs did not comprehensively assess the needs of family members, and programs failed to adequately assess children’s needs or the full range of parent functioning. The majority of the domains comprising the intakes were rated as deficient. Only one-third of the categories of demographics, housing and homelessness, and self-sufficiency were rated as adequate. Results provide support for culturally competent, family-oriented, and trauma-informed assessment of homeless families. Implications for practice and policy are discussed.