Homeless children's self-report of experiences and the role of age, history of homelessness, and current residence in academic performance
Biggar, Heather Anne
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Children comprise the most rapidly increasing population of homeless people in the United States, and homeless students perform more poorly in school than others. This study used quantitative (N = 40) and qualitative (N = 5) analyses to examine data from a sample of African American (65%), Caucasian (25%) and biracial (10%) 5- to 16-yearold homeless students in a midsize city in the Southeast U.S. There were 25 boys and 15 girls. Using two concurrent outcome measures—grade-point average (GPA) and Teacher Report Form ratings (TRF)—results from regression analyses showed three findings. (No gender or ethnic differences emerged.) First, after controlling for current residence and history of homelessness, younger homeless students showed better academic performance than older homeless students; this was true for GPA but not TRF. Second, after controlling for child age, lifetime history of homelessness in total months negatively predicted performance as measured by GPA and TRF; lifetime history in total number of episodes predicted TRF but not GPA. Third, after controlling for age, students staying in shelters showed better academic performance as measured by GPA (but not TRF) than students staying in doubled-up arrangements (i.e., temporarily staying with family or friends). Lifetime experience staying doubled up also negatively predicted GPA and TRF, whereas lifetime experience staying in shelters did not significantly predict performance. Qualitative data were derived from one-on-one interviews with a subsample (ages 10-14 years; 2 boys, 3 girls; 2 African American, 3 Caucasian) of the larger sample. Results indicated that homeless children have strong needs for both physical and emotional security, as well as a sense of control in their lives. Practical implications and directions for future research are discussed.