According to America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010, a report by The National Center on Family Homelessness, more than 1.6 million, or one in 45 children in America, experience homelessness each year. Family homelessness is increasing in all parts of the country and families represent an ever growing sub-set of the overall homeless population. Most homeless families have experienced extreme poverty and violence, have been unstably housed, and have limited education and work histories.
Service providers can better serve homeless families and help mitigate the devastating impact of homelessness by implementing ten basic principles of care. Does your organization implement these principles when serving homeless children and families? Research, program evaluation, and front-line experience have proven at a minimum, all programs serving families and children experiencing homelessness should implement the following practices and policies:
- Identify and Meet Immediate Needs – Work to ensure that families’ immediate needs for safety, housing, entitlements/benefits, and pressing health, mental health, and substance abuse needs are addressed before engaging them in longer-term care.
- Ensure Physical and Emotional Safety and Provide Trauma-Informed Care – Provide services in a safe physical environment and treat clients in a respectful, supportive, non-judgmental manner. Understand the impact of trauma and implement principles of trauma-informed care at all levels of your organization.
- Promote Family Unity – Do not separate families unless the health and well-being of children are at immediate risk.
- Assess and Develop Individualized Housing and Service Plans - Assess the needs of each family member and develop individualized housing and service plans.
- Rapidly Re-House Families - Re-house families as quickly as possible, minimizing their time in shelter.
- Link Housing with Services and Supports - Housing is essential, but not sufficient. Work to directly support families and also connect them to mainstream services and natural supports in the community. All families require supports to thrive.
- Ensure High Quality Service Delivery - Provide effective,high quality services by implementingevidence-based and promising practices, family-oriented care, strengths-based services, consumer involvement, culturally and linguistically competent services, trauma-informed care, and coordinated and integrated care.
- Address the Unique Needs of Children – Do not overlook the needs of homeless children. Provide child-specific services and create child-friendly settings. Help children access and succeed in school by partnering with schools and homeless education liaisons.
- Provide Training to Ensure A Basic Standard of Care – Require all staff working with homeless families to receive basic training that supports the development of specific competencies.
- Monitor Progress - Understand the needs of the families you serve and the effectiveness of the services you provide.
An integrated and coordinated community-based system of housing, supports and services is needed to effectively serve homeless children and families. Homeless service providers should partner with others in their community to implement these principles of care.
For more details on these principles of care, please access the National Center's website here.