The Family Options Study
 

Overview

The Family Options Study is a multi-site random assignment experiment designed to study the impact of various housing and services interventions for homeless families. HUD launched the Family Options Study in 2008 in response to Congressional direction and with the goal of learning more about the effects of different housing and services interventions for homeless families. 

Between September 2010 and January 2012, a total of 2,282 families (including over 5,000 children) were enrolled into the study from emergency shelters across twelve communities nationwide and were randomly assigned to one of four interventions: 1) subsidy-only – defined as a permanent housing subsidy with no supportive services attached, typically delivered in the form of a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV); 2) project-based transitional housing – defined as temporary housing for up to 24 months with an intensive package of supportive services offered on-site; 3) community-based rapid re-housing – defined as temporary rental assistance, potentially renewable for up to 18 months with limited, housing-focused services; or 4) usual care –  defined as any housing or services that a family accesses in the absence of immediate referral to the other interventions.

Families were followed for three years following random assignment, with extensive surveys of families conducted at baseline and again approximately 20 and 37 months after random assignment. In addition to collecting data about the well-being of families and children at different points in time following random assignment, extensive cost data on each of the interventions studied was also collected, in order to calculate the fiscal costs of achieving the outcomes that were documented. While the primary outcome of interest is housing stability, and, in particular, preventing families from returning to homelessness, additional outcome domains of interest include family preservation, adult well-being, child well-being, and self-sufficiency.

An interim report, released in March 2013, describes the study’s design and implementation and characteristics of the study families.  The key findings in the interim report relate to families’ enrollment in the different interventions being studied — both the barriers presented by stringent eligibility criteria of programs that often screen households out of assistance, and the choices made by households to reject the intervention offered. The short-term outcomes report was released in July 2015, documenting the outcomes of families and the relative costs of the interventions at the 20-month follow-up period. The long-term outcomes report, was released in October 2016, documenting the outcomes of families and the relative costs of the interventions 37 months after random assignment. All products generated from this study will be housed on this project page. For additional information, please contact Anne Fletcher at anne.l.fletcher@hud.gov.

Long-Term Outcomes Report

This report, titled Family Options Study: Long-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families, presents the long-term outcomes of the 2,282 families enrolled in the Family Options Study, a multi-site random assignment experiment designed to study the impact of various housing and services interventions on homeless families. The report documents how families are faring approximately 37 months after random assignment to one of four interventions: 1) subsidy-only (SUB), 2) community-based rapid re-housing (CBRR), 3) project-based transitional housing (PBTH), or 4) usual care. Outcome measures fall within five domains: housing stability; family preservation; adult well-being; child well-being; and self-sufficiency. The collection of extensive cost data for each of the interventions tested enables the calculation of the costs that can be tied to each of the interventions, and in turn, used to understand the cost of achieving the outcomes observed. The findings at 37-months in large part mirror the findings documented at 20 months, with the outcomes again demonstrating the power of a long-term housing subsidy to convey significant benefits to families experiencing homelessness when compared with the outcomes of families offered other interventions.

On October 25, 2016, HUD/PD&R hosted a public briefing on the long-term outcomes of the Family Options Study. Watch a recording of the webcast here, and listen to a presentation of the study findings from the research team, as well as a moderated Q&A with Federal leaders working to address homelessness.

Access the Long-Term Outcomes Report here, and the summary brief of key findings here.

Data Collection and Analysis Plan

The objective of the Family Options Study is to provide research evidence to help federal policymakers, community planners, and local practitioners make sound decisions about the best ways to address homelessness among families. The study is conducted as a rigorous, multi-site experiment, comparing four combinations of housing and service interventions for homeless families who have been in emergency shelters for at least seven days. The fundamental research question guiding the analysis seeks to understand if priority access to a particular intervention yields differences in outcomes for homeless families over the short-term (20 months after random assignment) and/or the long-term (37 months after random assignment). The Data Collection and Analysis Plan provides the blueprint for the study implementation, including: 1) an overview of the evaluation design, including the interventions studied, research questions, outcome measures, and random assignment process; 2) the follow-up survey and administrative data sources used and data collection procedures; and 3) the analysis plan, including the hypotheses to be tested, impact estimation model, strategy for addressing multiple comparisons, subgroup analysis, addressing no-shows and crossovers, and sample sizes and statistical power.

Download the Data Collection and Analysis Plan

Interim Report

The Interim Report presents results from the early implementation of the Family Options Study, describing the baseline characteristics of the families enrolled in the study and the housing and services interventions the families were offered. The report also describes the study’s design and implementation and provides preliminary information about the extent to which families enrolled in their assigned interventions.

Download the Interim Report

Scholarly Publications

The Family Options Study provides a unique platform to generate research findings related to family homelessness. To date, several scholarly publications have been generated based on this research effort:

School outcomes for homeless children: differences among sheltered, doubled-up, and poor, housed children
Stacy M. Deck
Journal of Children and Poverty, Published online 24 October 2016

Some definitions of child homelessness include the category of children who are doubled-up with others due to loss of housing or economic hardship, while others do not. Are doubled-up children more like children in shelters or children who are poor but housed? A quasi-experimental comparison group design was used to test empirically for differences in school mobility, school attendance, and reading and mathematics achievement among three groups of sheltered, doubled-up, and poor, housed children, respectively, with each group containing 49 students. Sheltered students were found to have significantly higher levels of school mobility and significantly lower rates of school attendance than students in the other two groups. An elaboration of the continuum of risk model is proposed to differentiate experiences of sheltered and doubled-up students. Recommendations are made for policy responses as well as future research.

Learn More: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10796126.2016.1247347

 

Intersections of family homelessness, CPS involvement, and race in Alameda County, California.
Jason M. Rodriguez and Marybeth Shinn
Child Abuse & Neglect 57, July 2016, pp. 41-52

The homelessness and child protective services (CPS) systems are closely linked. This study examines the patterns and sequence of families’ involvement with homeless shelters and CPS, as well as whether involvement in each system predicts involvement in the other using linked administrative records for 258 families recruited in emergency shelters in Alameda County, California. More than half of families were reported to CPS at some point, but less than one-fifth ever had a report substantiated. Reports that were uninvestigated or unfounded increased in the months leading up to shelter entry and spiked immediately afterward, but substantiations and child removals increased only later. Shelter use before study entry was associated with CPS referrals and investigations after study entry, although not with substantiated cases or child removals. However, CPS involvement before study entry was not associated with returns to shelter after study entry. These results imply that an unsubstantiated report of neglect or abuse may serve as an early warning signal for homelessness and that preventive strategies aiming to affect both homeless and child protective systems should focus on reducing homelessness. CPS workers should evaluate families’ housing needs and attempt to link families to appropriate resources. Black families were disproportionately referred to CPS after shelter entry after controlling for other family characteristics, but race was not associated with substantiations of neglect or abuse or with child removals. Findings lend modest support to human decision-making and institutional explanations of racial disproportionalities in CPS involvement, especially for reporters outside of the CPS system.

 

A Qualitative Assessment of Parental Preschool Choices and Challenges Among Families Experiencing Homelessness: Policy and Practice Implications. Lindsey Stillman, Kate Hurd, Charles Kieffer, Jamie Taylor, Britton Gibson, The Cloudburst Group.

On a single night in 2013—as measured by the Point-In-Time count conducted by homeless services providers under the auspice of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—more than 70,000 families and 130,000 children were experiencing homelessness across the United States. Of these families, 80 percent were headed by single mothers, and 40 percent had at least one child under the age of 1 (HUD, 2013a).

Learn More: www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/homeless/qualitative-assessment-preschool.html

 

Parental preschool choices and challenges when young children and their families experience homelessness.
Jamie Taylor, Britton Gibson, and Kate Hurd
Children and Youth Services Review 56, September 2015, pp. 68-75

Encouraging stable preschool enrollment is a critically important policy response for ameliorating the negative impacts of housing instability and homelessness on young children. To contribute to the evidence base for preschool and family support policies, this article investigates how housing instability and homelessness influences parental preschool choices. Using a modified grounded theory approach to analyze transcripts of interviews and focus groups with 28 families who had experienced homelessness, we find that for formerly homeless parents, the most important factors influencing preschool enrollment are housing stability, social networks, attitudes about preschool education, history of trauma, and the type of support received during interactions with social service systems. We integrate these findings into a socio-ecological model that can guide the development of policy responses that encourage preschool enrollment among families experiencing homelessness.


Leaving Homelessness Behind: Housing Decisions Among Families Exiting Shelter. Fisher, Benjamin W.; Mayberry, Lindsay; Shinn, Marybeth; and Khadduri, Jill. 2014. Housing Policy Debate, 24(2), pp. 364-386.

Because homelessness assistance programs are designed to help families, it is important for policymakers and practitioners to understand how families experiencing homelessness make housing decisions, particularly when they decide not to use available services. This study explores those decisions using in-depth qualitative interviews with 80 families recruited in shelters across four sites approximately six months after they were assigned to one of four conditions (permanent housing subsidies, project-based transitional housing, community-based rapid re-housing, or usual care). Familiar neighborhoods near children's schools, transportation, family and friends, and stability were important to families across conditions. Program restrictions on eligibility constrained family choices. Subsidized housing was the most desired intervention, and families leased up at higher rates than in other studies of poor families. Respondents were least comfortable in and most likely to leave transitional housing. Uncertainty associated with community-based rapid re-housing generated considerable anxiety. Across interventions, many families had to make unhappy compromises, often leading to further moves. Policy recommendations are offered.

Learn More: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4170684

 

Families experiencing housing instability: The effects of housing programs on family routines and rituals. Mayberry, L. S., Shinn, M., Benton, J. G., & Wise, J. (2014). Families experiencing housing instability: The effects of housing programs on family routines and rituals. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 95-109. doi:10.1037/h0098946. Copyright © 2014 by the American Orthopsychiatric Association. Reproduced with permission.

Maintenance of family processes can protect parents, children, and families from the detrimental effects of extreme stressors, such as homelessness. When families cannot maintain routines and rituals, the stressors of poverty and homelessness can be compounded for both caregivers and children. However, characteristics of living situations common among families experiencing homelessness present barriers to the maintenance of family routines and rituals. We analyzed 80 in-depth interviews with parents who were experiencing or had recently experienced an instance of homelessness. We compared their assessments of challenges to family schedules, routines, and rituals across various living situations, including shelter, transitional housing programs, doubled-up (i.e., living temporarily with family or friends), and independent housing. Rules common across shelters and transitional housing programs impeded family processes, and parents felt surveilled and threatened with child protective service involvement in these settings. In doubled-up living situations, parents reported adapting their routines to those of the household and having parenting interrupted by opinions of friends and family members. Families used several strategies to maintain family routines and rituals in these living situations and ensure consistency and stability for their children during an otherwise unstable time.

Learn More: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4089513

 

Short-term Outcomes Report

This report, titled Family Options Study: Short-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families, presents the short-term outcomes of the 2,282 families enrolled in the Family Options Study, a multi-site random assignment experiment designed to study the impact of various housing and services interventions on homeless families. The report documents how families are faring approximately 20 months after random assignment to one of four interventions: 1) subsidy-only (SUB), 2) community-based rapid re-housing (CBRR), 3) project-based transitional housing (PBTH), or 4) usual care. Outcome measures fall within five domains: housing stability; family preservation; adult well-being; child well-being; and self-sufficiency. The collection of extensive cost data for each of the interventions tested enables the calculation of the costs that can be tied to each of the interventions, and in turn, used to understand the cost of achieving the outcomes observed. The study resulted in strong and significant findings, particularly related to the power of offering a long-term housing subsidy to a family residing in emergency shelter.

Download the Short-term Outcomes Report

On July 8, 2015, HUD/PD&R hosted a public briefing on the short-term outcomes of the Family Options Study. Watch a recording of the webcast here, and listen to a presentation of the study findings from the research team, as well as a moderated Q&A with Federal leaders working to address homelessness.