Report Release: Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness

Through support of the OAK Foundation, Homes for Families is taking on an initiative that aims to improve the application and placement process for families who need to utilize the Emergency Assistance program.  As part of this project, we will be releasing a series of reports and documents regarding family homelessness, the Emergency Assistance system and the families it serves.  We are pleased to present the first report, Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Practitioners and Policy Makers

A bit of background: Continuums of Care funded by HUD are required to institute a coordinated assessment, but currently there is much variability in the process. The term itself is often applied to tools that function to collect data, to screen for eligibility, to determine a housing intervention, to guide a differential response for service delivery or for clinical interventions.  The topic is gaining momentum as a key component in addressing homelessness here in Massachusetts as well; Governor Baker mentions the term “assessment” as part of his plan and vision for addressing the homelessness crisis in the Commonwealth. 

As a beginning step in our project we pause to ask- what does assessment really mean and how can it be applied to the Massachusetts family shelter system? We turned to Dr. Carmela DeCandia to get some answers, and as a result, this report came to life. We encourage you to read and share it in its entirety, and to encourage this, we highlighted some of the main components below:

The report begins with a thorough introduction on family homelessness in Massachusetts, and why it should be a priority:

In Massachusetts, the rise in homelessness among families and children has been dramatic. According to America’s Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness, in 2010 an estimated 28,683 children were homeless in the Commonwealth; by 2013 that number had grown to 31,516 (Bassuk et al., 2014a).

And continues to get to the crux of the issue at hand:

To achieve its goals and ensure that families’ needs are met, careful consideration must be given to the assessment process. Traditionally, assessment of homeless families has taken a resource driven approach; providers ask only about issues for which services or referrals are available (NAEH, 2015). However, by not screening for known risk factors in homeless families they remain inadequately served and are less likely to attain residential stability. Considering the growing numbers of homeless children across the country, and knowing the impact adverse experiences has on child development, comprehensive assessments are needed to effectively link families with both housing and services.

The report covers the importance of comprehensive assessment,

Assessment lies at the core of the work with homeless families. To provide the best service possible, providers must determine what families need. When done too narrowly, assessments only capture a small piece of a larger puzzle; done too broadly, assessments may not accurately and reliably capture the information needed to guide effective practice.

and it addresses the challenges that come with it:

Assessment can be a challenging process; providing services to a high-risk group with an array of stresses is demanding work for anyone no matter how well trained.

The report reinforces a comprehensive approach,

An effective response to family homelessness requires a shift away from an adult focused, single generation model, to a two generational, family-centered approach that supports resiliency. Reliable screening tools can help providers better identify and target services for all family members. With training, homeless providers can successfully identify and refer families for needed services.

recommends a two-generational approach,

Two generational approaches offer services to help children while simultaneously working with parents to enhance and strengthen parenting skills, build economic self-sufficiency, and address health or mental health needs

And shares how the family-centered approach is unique:

Adults are viewed as parents first; child development is assessed in relation to the parent’s functioning. In families with young children, a mother’s desires and wishes for her family are central and should guide the process. In addition, the developmental status and needs of each child is assessed.

Dr. DeCandia ends with a call for policy change

At this time, political will is needed to move beyond the status quo. Massachusetts is well on its way to taking these bold next steps, and may lead the nation in developing a holistic, family/person centered approach to the assessment of homeless families.

And the reason why we all do what we do:

Doing so holds the promise of helping families achieve housing stability and improved well-being, and preventing adverse outcomes for another generation of homeless children.

About the Author:

Dr. Carmela DeCandia is a licensed clinical psychologist with specialties in trauma, child and adolescent development, program development, and assessment. She worked for more than 10 years at St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children as the Vice President of Programs and was most recently the Director of the National Center on Family Homelessness.  She has partnered with Homes for Families in the past as a participant on committees, partner in pilot projects and training programs, in the facilitation of family focus groups, and as an advocate.

For the full report, please click here. Feel free to email jminton@homesforfamilies.org for a PDF version or any questions.

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