Common needs but divergent interventions for U.S. Homeless and foster care children: Results from a systematic review

Cheryl Zlotnick, Tammy Tam, Suzanne Zerger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Many children living in homeless situations in the U.S. have temporary stays in foster care, and both populations suffer disproportionately higher rates of physical, psychological and social difficulties compared with other children. However, very little is known about which specific interventions achieve the best outcomes for children in these overlapping transitional living situations. To address this gap, we review existing literature to identify the most promising practices for children living in transition. A standardised vocabulary specific to each of three electronic databases (i.e. Medline, PsychINFO and CINAHL) was employed to identify studies that described an intervention specifically targeting foster care or homeless children and families. Separate systematic searches were conducted for homeless and foster children, and only studies published in English between January 1993 and February 2009 were selected. The final sample (n=43) of articles described interventions that fell into two categories: mental health (n=17) and case management (n=26). No article included a sample containing both homeless and foster care children, and most studies on homeless children used case management interventions while most studies on foster care children focused on mental health interventions. Few articles employed rigorous study designs. Although repeatedly studies have demonstrated the overlap between populations of homeless and foster care children, studies focused on one population or the other. Virtually all studies on both homeless and foster children devised interventions to reduce trauma and family instability; yet, no evidence-based practice addresses the overlapping needs and potentially relevant evidence-based practice for these two populations. An important and vital next step is to establish an effective evidence-based intervention that reduces the impact of trauma on both U.S. populations of children living in transition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-476
Number of pages28
JournalHealth and Social Care in the Community
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Best practices
  • Children
  • Electronic databases
  • Foster care
  • Homeless

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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