Housing insecurity and adolescent well-being: Relationships with child welfare and criminal justice involvement

Child Abuse Negl. 2021 May:115:105009. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105009. Epub 2021 Feb 25.


Background: Housing insecurity is endemic among low-income, marginalized families throughout the United States. Unstably housed families face increased likelihood of coming into contact with various social systems that upend family routines and norms, but the roles of these contacts in linking housing insecurity with long-term adolescent outcomes are unknown.

Objective: The present study tested whether family contacts with the criminal justice and child welfare systems mediated links between housing insecurity and adverse adolescent outcomes.

Participants and setting: Data came from at-risk families with children born 1998-2000 in 20 large American cities followed over 15 years (N = 2,892).

Methods: Structural equation modeling estimated a measurement model using confirmatory factor analysis and a structural model testing direct and indirect pathways from housing insecurity to adolescent depression and delinquency via contact with the criminal justice and child welfare systems.

Results: Housing insecurity was associated with increased contact with both the criminal justice and child welfare systems. Housing insecurity at age 5 was directly associated with adolescent depression at age 15 (β = 0.09, p < 0.05) and indirectly associated with adolescent delinquency via mothers' criminal justice (β = 0.04, p < 0.05) and child welfare (β = 0.07, p < 0.05) contacts.

Conclusions: Families with high needs may face stigma or seek assistance that increases surveillance of families and thus likelihood for sanctioning by the criminal justice and child welfare systems. Providers and systems working with low-income, insecurely housed families must consider stigma faced by clients to avoid further marginalizing underserved populations.

Keywords: Adolescents; Child welfare; Criminal justice; Delinquency; Depression; Housing insecurity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Child, Preschool
  • Criminal Law*
  • Female
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Mothers
  • United States / epidemiology