College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-21-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Patrick Fowler, PhD

Second Advisor

Bernadette Sanchez, PhD

Third Advisor

Molly Brown, PhD


A growing body of research has identified a link between housing instability and involvement with child welfare services for families. For some, inadequate housing situations lead to parent-child separations or delayed reunification. Housing assistance may be one option for these families to avoid these outcomes; however, little research examines existing housing services for inadequately housed families in contact with the child welfare system. Public housing assistance represents the primary source to connect low-income families with affordable housing; however, a number of barriers challenge navigation of this system, including long waitlists, stigmatization of voucher use, and stringent eligibility requirements for all living in the household. The homeless service system also provides a safety net that many families try to avoid. In addition to difficulties securing housing through these systems, inadequately housed families in contact with child welfare must also address family needs for child safety and stability. Thus, it is important to understand how families choose housing when they receive assistance.

The present study employed a mixed methods design to examine the housing choices of families who are inadequately housed and in contact with child welfare services and perceptions of their neighborhoods. A qualitative substudy (n = 19) of a larger, randomized-controlled trial survey study examined housing choices and the role of safety in these choices. Quantitative analyses supplemented the qualitative analyses by using data from participants within the larger survey study to examine the relationship between participants’ fear of crime, perception of neighborhood problems, and archival data (i.e., concentrated disadvantage, crime rates). Results indicated caregivers’ housing choices are influenced by time constraints, affordability, and access to support and services, with safety taking less priority. Caregivers live in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and crime, while perceptions of these problems are generally not related to actual rates. Similarity of experiences between those referred for subsidized housing and those receiving service-as-usual is related to additional constraints that present themselves when attempting to use housing assistance. Caregivers’ report of prioritized factors in housing decisions and challenges faced may inform child welfare service providers in identifying appropriate housing services, as well as apprise policies for existing housing programs. Furthermore, this study adds to the growing body of research suggesting those in disadvantaged neighborhoods who receive housing assistance remain in areas with high poverty and crime, indicating a need to examine and address broader systemic issues.

SLP Collection