Academic journal article Social Work

Outcomes of Mandated Preventive Services Programs for Homeless and Truant Children: A Follow-Up Study

Academic journal article Social Work

Outcomes of Mandated Preventive Services Programs for Homeless and Truant Children: A Follow-Up Study

Article excerpt

Homelessness is associated with a broad range of negative outcomes for children, including poor health, truancy, impaired cognitive functioning, and behavioral problems (Bassuk & Rosenberg, 1988, 1990; Bassuk, Rubin, & Lauriat, 1986; Gewirtzman & Fodor, 1987; Molnar, Rath, & Klein, 1990). It has been estimated that fewer than half of homeless school-aged children go to school at all (Maza & Hall, 1987). Moreover, regulations on permanent residency in many school districts bar homeless children from both the school nearest their former home and the school serving the neighborhood where they are temporarily residing (Edelman & Mihaly, 1989).

Homeless children who attend school are far more likely than other children to experience difficulties. Bassuk et al. (1986) reported that homeless children who attended school experienced irregular attendance, disproportionately high rates of failure and retention, and high probability of placement in special classes. Bassuk and Rosenberg (1988, 1990) compared a sample of homeless children with a matched group of low-income children with homes. They found that the homeless children scored significantly lower than the children with homes on measures of socioemotional and cognitive functioning.

Gewirtzman and Fodor (1987) reported that homeless children were unusually likely to manifest behavioral problems ranging from extreme aggressiveness in some children to extreme withdrawal in others. These researchers also described homeless children as frequently listless, apathetic, and tearful. Ziesemer, Marcoux, and Marwell (1994) reported that one-fourth to one-half of the homeless children in their sample were sufficiently disturbed as to need further psychiatric assessment. These reports make it clear that the condition of homelessness represents a significant risk factor for children, increasing the likelihood of school failure and involvement with the judicial system.

Research on Prevention Programs

In view of this risk, programs for homeless children aimed at preventing truancy and problem behavior appear to be warranted. Mandated preventive services (MPS) are a vehicle for the delivery of such programs. Several published reports have described MPS programs designed to improve educational outcomes (Padilla & Lindholm, 1984), to prevent behavior difficulties (Johnson & Breckenridge, 1982), and to promote the involvement of parents in the education of their children (Blum & Phillips, 1982). However, none of these studies has considered the factors that predict positive outcomes for families participating in such programs. The study reported in this article was designed to identify such factors.

Studies of prevention programs have emphasized the importance of parental involvement in the treatment process. Brim (1959) suggested that the parent-child relationship is the most important predictor of positive behavioral outcomes for children, and he argued that parent education could have a favorable effect on parenting skills. Johnson and Breckenridge (1982) demonstrated that a program aimed at teaching mothers to identify and respond to their children's emotional states was effective in reducing destructive, overactive, and attention-seeking behavior. Bolton, Charlton, and Guy (1985) identified poor parenting skills as a risk factor for children and recommended parent education to prevent negative emotional outcomes.

Although these studies suggest that parental factors are crucial to children's behavioral, emotional, and academic outcomes, studies reported to date have not focused specifically on MPS programs, and they have not demonstrated significant relationships between parental involvement in the MPS program and the child's adjustment following termination from the MPS program. The study reported here examined the following-predictors of successful outcomes: parental attendance at the MPS clinical sessions; intensity of parental involvement in the MPS program; parental understanding of the child's pathology; and the extent to which the parents provided their child with appropriate structure, stimulation, and warmth. …

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