“As Ben and his mom walked to a store, they saw a woman sitting on the sidewalk with a young child hugging her. The woman had a box of candies and a container for money in front of them. As soon as Ben realized he could help the family, he turned to his mom and asked, “Mom can I have money to give to them?” His mom, who knew how sensitive and empathic Ben is to homeless people, responded “Yes… my son, you can have this money to help the family!” He put money in the container, but most importantly he gave them a sincere, warm smile and a tender look. This is a true story I recently experienced and it inspired me to reflect on the challenges that homeless families face in our communities. Ben, who is only 10-years-old, has the capacity to leave any judgment out AND the ability to respond with empathy and genuine care. What a gift to be a compassionate human being! Sadly, many times these families sense our judgment or anger, or, even worse they experience our indifference; they have become invisible to us. I wish many of us could see through the lens of compassion and kindness, just like Ben did.
Today, we will devote our blog to homeless families who, despite their struggles and financial limitations, can give their children love and security. We will support our discussion with research around this topic, as well as national statistics that indicate that the number of homeless families and children is on the rise in our country. Additionally, we will review The Growing Great Kids and Growing Great Families Curriculum tools and resources around this topic. We’ll conclude by and discussing how you can support parents as they build bridges to self-sufficiency.
According to The American Institutes for Research, recent data from the US Department of Education and the 2013 US Census estimates, 2.5 million children in America, one in every 30 children, go to sleep without a home of their own each year. The American Institutes for Research reported that child homelessness increased in 31 states and the District of Columbia from 2012 to 2013. There are homeless children in every city, county, and state – this situation impacts every part of our country. It is important to note that statistics show significant progress is being made in reducing homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless individuals, but no special attention has been directed toward homeless children. This has resulted in an alarming increase for this group (American Institutes for Research.com, November 2014). Families experiencing homelessness are obviously at greater risk. They often suffer economic and health challenges, and a wide range of social risks including poverty, job loss, disrupted relationships, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Children exposed to all these adversities are at higher risks for poor physical, emotional, and academic outcomes.
Some additional interesting research to point out in today’s discussion is the study done by Dr. Staci Perlman and a group of colleagues. Their study addresses the urgency of promoting positive parenting in the context of homelessness. In this study, they concluded that the parent-child relationship is affected by the parent’s experiences and by influences from the surrounding environment. Some parents seem to be resilient to the risks associated with poverty and homelessness and can provide nurturing and supportive caregiving. While other parents struggle to provide responsive parenting and empathic discipline. Researchers found that poor parenting practices appear to be connected to the experience of being homeless in combination with co-occuring risk factors. Research has shown that parents experiencing homelessness have higher than average rates of chronic medical conditions, untreated emotional and behavioral disturbances, substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse, and emotional victimization. They also tend to have low education and job training, and in most cases, they have limited role models for positive parenting (Perlman et al., 2012). The combination of all these risk factors puts homeless children in a highly vulnerable position in terms of optimal development.
Now let’s discuss how the Growing Great Kids curriculum can promote positive parent-child relationships that support optimal development for their child, particularly with families who are facing homelessness. The Growing Great Kids curriculum includes eleven design features in every Growing Great Kids (GGK) and Growing Great Families (GGF) Module. All these design features work together to create opportunities for, and address the needs of, both vulnerable parents and their children. Each design feature is intentionally woven throughout each conversation guide to allow parents to become relationship based with their children, while growing their parenting and life skills. A critical perspective utilized in The GGK curriculum is to draw parents’ attention to their strengths and motivations for growing their knowledge and skills. Every time parents experience a GGK module they are provided with opportunities to strengthen their parenting practices, problem solving skills, stress management ability, and other important life skills. All families, including those living in transitional housing or shelters will benefit from experiencing the GGK and GGF Modules. We encourage you to partner with parents in selecting GGK and GGF modules, as well as Child Development activities, to maximize parents’ autonomy and choice.
At Great Kids, we believe every parent and every family has many strengths and core values that can be built upon to supporting families in getting what they want for themselves and their children. The GGK curriculum includes extensive materials designed specifically to enhance parents’ confidence and competence, through practice, feedback, and reflection. Whether families are experiencing a temporary or long-term homelessness challenge, every child deserves to thrive in a healthy, safe, and loving environment. Supporting homeless parents on their journey out of poverty and homelessness WHILE creating spaces for positive parent-child interactions, implementing quality parenting practices, and fostering child optimal development is an important part of the GKI vision.
American Institutes for Research (November 2014). National Center on Family Homelessness: American’s Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness. Retrieved from http://www.air.org/resource/americas-youngest-outcasts-report-card-child-homelessness
Perlman, S., Cowan, B., Gewirtz, A., Haskett, M., Stokes, L. (2012). Promoting Positive Parenting Within the Context of Homelessness. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 82, No. 3, 402-412. DOI 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2012. 01158.x