Trauma Informed Care for Mothers Experiencing Homelessness

Trauma Informed Care for Mothers Experiencing Homelessness
Why Trauma Matters

Trauma is the Norm

A history of violence and trauma is the norm for women and their children experiencing homelessness. For many mothers experiencing homelessness, trauma is something they experienced both as a child and as an adult. According to different studies, 90 percent have been abused by their intimate partners and 42 percent were sexually molested as children. Fifty to sixty percent of mothers experiencing homelessness became homeless because they were fleeing a violent relationship. Children experiencing homelessness are exposed to violence at very high rates. Many studies have shown that the event of homelessness itself has a traumatic effect on children as well and is tied to poor health, school, and mental health outcomes.

Unaddressed Trauma has Long-Term Even Multi-Generational Effects

Trauma fundamentally alters a woman’s ability to trust and feel safe. It has repercussions throughout her relationships and can lead to stress, depression, a variety of coping mechanisms including substance abuse and self-harm, and a failure to form proper bonds with her children. This in turn can have long- term health, mental health, and educational attainment effects on her children.

A ongoing cohort study following over 17,000 individuals overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente of San Diego on the health effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACE Study) has found that trauma experienced during childhood is correlated with a broad spectrum of mental health disorders, risk-taking behaviors, adult intimate partner violence, negative health and disease outcomes, and even early death. The conclusions of the many research papers published on data from the ACE Study make it clear that traumatic events in childhood have far-reaching effects into the lives of those who experience them but also into the lives of their children, future spouses, and likely even their grandchildren and their future spouses. When a young mother finds herself homeless because she is fleeing domestic violence, it is a sad truth that her daughter is at much greater risk of finding herself in the same situation 15 years from now. When it comes to trauma, history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Stopping the Cycle of Trauma and Homelessness 

For a mother, experiencing homelessness comes with many challenges. It is a daily challenge to get the services, support, food, and education a child needs. It can be difficult to deal with the family dynamics that arise when you are forced to raise your children in public, which is, in most cases, part of being a family experiencing homelessness. When you add the mother’s past trauma into the relationship, the situation becomes more stressful and the effect on the child is often a reduction in the attachment they need to feel safe and develop normally. There are a number of things that systems and programs that serve mothers experiencing homelessness can do to make the experience of homelessness more manageable and to ultimately break-through the trauma cycle to lead to safety and stability.

Read more on this important topic:

Guidance on stopping the trauma cycle from Joan Gillece the Director for SAMHSA’s National Center of Trauma-informed Care

A blog post from USICH Deputy Director Jennifer Ho on the Importance of Trauma-Informed Care for mothers experiencing homelessness

A profile of N Street Village's successful program for helping women experiencing homelessness overcome trauma histories

Information on trauma and female Veterans

Recommended reading list on trauma, mothers, and children from Ellen Bassuk, the founder and president of the National Center for Family Homelessness and the Director of the Center for Social Innovation  

Additional Resources

Trauma Informed Care for Mothers Experiencing Homelessness

Why Trauma Matters Trauma is the Norm A history of violence and trauma is the...