Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship Award

I was awarded the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship (IDF) award for the 2020/2021 school year to work with the Minnesota Linking Information for Kids (MinnLInK) program as well as several state agencies, to evaluate the role of self-regulation screening at pre-kindergarten screenings. See more details about my project below:

Housing Instability, Self-Regulation, and School Suspension: Using Administrative Data to Promote Cross-System Collaborations

Abstract. Homelessness affects many aspects of children’s adaptive functioning including self-regulation and behavioral difficulties in school. However, little is known about how the timing of homelessness in early childhood in combination with pre-kindergarten screenings of self-regulation could inform intervention. Using an innovative approach, this project proposes to integrate data from an early childhood screening study of Minneapolis children with longitudinal multi-system administrative data on homelessness and other risks. The goal of this study is to identify how developmentally informed cross-system collaborations could guide interventions that will enhance the educational success of children at high risk for behavioral difficulties at school.

Background. Conservative estimates indicate that 300,000 children in the United States experienced homelessness in 2016 and over half of those children were under the age of six.1 In Minnesota alone, 3,265 children were homeless on a single night count in 20182. Homelessness is a marker of poverty, race-related marginalization, and systematic oppression, as well as other risks, including parent incarceration, neighborhood violence, and maltreatment.3,4 Research on children experiencing homelessness indicates deleterious effects on children’s self-regulation skills and an increased likelihood of behavioral problems – including increased risk for missing critical learning opportunities due to disproportionately high rates of out of school suspension. 5, 6, 7 Due to the impact of homelessness on risk for maladaptive child development, it is critical to examine how the experience of homelessness affects school readiness and academic success.

The negative impact of homelessness may be further exacerbated by its chronicity and timing. In particular, early childhood represents a sensitive period when children are mastering age-salient developmental tasks such as forming the foundation of neurological systems involved in self-regulating.8, 9, 10 Retrospective studies suggest that experiencing homelessness in the first 5 years of life increases the likelihood of attention problems, symptoms of psychopathology, and cognitive deficits through adulthood.11, 12, 13 Moreover, homelessness during this developmental period – especially in infancy – may threaten cognitive development above and beyond child maltreatment, family changes, poverty, and other risks.13 At the same time, some children experiencing these risks succeed, suggesting that resilience is possible with adequate support from families, schools, communities, and policy. Addressing child homelessness presents a challenge that requires an integrated approach across systems and disciplines. Currently, there are disproportionate educational challenges and barriers for identifying who may or may not be at risk for behavioral maladaptation in the school settings. This project will highlight how government cross-system collaborations, with a developmental lens, could improve services and policies for high-risk children during pivotal periods of life.  

Specific Aims. Aim 1: Characterize how the developmental timing of homelessness is associated with self-regulation at pre-kindergarten screenings and third-grade school suspensions. Hypothesis 1:More instances of homelessness and homelessness closer to screening will be related to lower self-regulation skills, above and beyond other risks. Children who have experienced housing instability and other adverse experiences will be the most at risk for self-regulation difficulties and third-grade suspension. Aim 2:Determine if self-regulation, despite homelessness, reduces the likelihood that children will experience school suspension. Hypothesis 2: Self-regulation will reduce the likelihood of school suspension, and will have a buffering effect for children who experience homelessness during early childhood. The proposed study is significant because it highlights how information-rich administrative data that has already been collected could be integrated to identify those children most at risk and inform targeted intervention efforts.

Methods. The proposed project will draw on data from a study of 606 children examining the value of adding assessments of self-regulation to an early childhood screener in the Minneapolis Public School (MPS) District. Children (ages 36 to 75 months) and their parents were invited to participate when they arrived for their early childhood screening. This sample is representative of children in the MPS system including approximately 11% (n = 70) of the sample who were screened while staying in emergency shelters. Families (90%) consented to compiling administrative data through the Minnesota-Linking Information for Kids (Minn-LInK). Minn-LInK stores identifiable multi-system administrative data sets that can be merged with other data using participant demographic information. The current project would integrate screening project data with data from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), Academic Disciplinary Records (DIRS), and the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).  

HMIS data will be used to calculate the timing and duration of homelessness. School screening data will provide participant demographic information and three indicators of self-regulation: The Self-Regulation subscale on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire- Social Emotional (ASQ-SE)14, the Effortful Control scale on the Child Behavior Checklist – Very Short Form (CBQ-VSF)15, and behavioral ratings of child self-regulation during the screening from administrators. We will use MDE and DIRS data to collect additional information about participant demographics and disciplinary outcomes through the third-grade year. Multilevel structural equation modeling will be used to assess associations between duration and timing of homelessness and child outcomes, as well as moderating effects of pre-kindergarten self-regulation on the relation between homelessness and child disciplinary outcomes.

Implications. This study provides a unique opportunity to use prospective indicators of risk, and evaluate how administrative information across systems could inform who to target with additional services as a method to mitigate risk for school suspensions. Many studies select families with a pre-indicated “risk status” and this study provides a more accurate estimation of risk by using a representative sample of children screened by the Minneapolis school district. A goal of this project is to inform policymakers, educators, and state agencies concerned with housing and education disparities on how data that they already collect can be applied to predict and improve child adjustment and reduce achievement disparities. In collaboration with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), the knowledge gained from this study will be disseminated in presentations, publications, and policy-relevant products, to inform screening decisions and cross-system collaborative programming for children who are routinely screened by Minneapolis public schools.

Interdisciplinary Significance. To conduct this research, I am collaborating with CURA and The Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare where Minn-LInK is located. I have worked with Minn-LiNK over the last two summers on a University grand challenge project, Homework Starts with Home, and that has provided me with training on research with integrated administrative data sets. CURA will provide me with a working model of community and government engagement and motivations for policies impacting the experience of children in the Minneapolis metro. They will also provide me with mentoring and training on housing and policy work. I hope to gain insight and methods for further integrating a housing policy lens into my developmental research and local advocacy efforts. This work will inform the design and dissemination of my dissertation focused on the development of emotion regulation in children experiencing homelessness.


National Alliance to End Homelessness (2017). The State of Homelessness in America.

Wilder Researh (2018). 2018 Minnesota Homeless Study: Single night Count of People Experiencing Homelessness.

Shinn, M., & Gillespie, C. (1994). The roles of housing and poverty in the origins of homelessness. American Behavioral Scientist37(4), 505-521.

Culhane, J. F., Webb, D., Grim, S., & Metraux, S. (2003). Prevalence of child welfare services involvement among homeless and low-income mothers: A five-year birth cohort study. J. Soc. & Soc. Welfare30, 79.

Labella, M. H., Narayan, A. J., McCormick, C. M., Desjardins, C. D., & Masten, A. S. (2019). Risk and adversity, parenting quality, and children’s social‐emotional adjustment in families experiencing homelessness. Child development90(1), 227-244.

Obradović, J. (2010). Effortful control and adaptive functioning of homeless children: Variable-focused and person-focused analyses. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology31(2), 109-117.

Rouse, H. L., & Fantuzzo, J. W. (2009). Multiple risks and educational well-being: A population-based investigation of threats to early school success. Early Childhood Research Quarterly24(1), 1-14.

Miller, P. M. (2011). A critical analysis of the research on student homelessness. Review of Educational Research81(3), 308-337.

McLaughlin, K. A., Fox, N. A., Zeanah, C. H., & Nelson, C. A. (2011). Adverse rearing environments and neural development in children: The development of frontal electroencephalogram asymmetry. Biological psychiatry70(11), 1008-1015.

Fox, S. E., Levitt, P., & Nelson III, C. A. (2010). How the timing and quality of early experiences influence the development of brain architecture. Child development81(1), 28-40.

McLaughlin, K. A., Fox, N. A., Zeanah, C. H., Sheridan, M. A., Marshall, P., & Nelson, C. A. (2010). Delayed maturation in brain electrical activity partially explains the association between early environmental deprivation and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biological psychiatry68(4), 329-336.

Ziol‐Guest, K. M., & McKenna, C. C. (2014). Early childhood housing instability and school readiness. Child development85(1), 103-113.

Fowler, P. J., Henry, D. B., Schoeny, M., Taylor, J., & Chavira, D. (2014). Developmental timing of housing mobility: Longitudinal effects on externalizing behaviors among at-risk youth. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry53(2), 199-208.

Fowler, P. J., McGrath, L. M., Henry, D. B., Schoeny, M., Chavira, D., Taylor, J. J., & Day, O. (2015). Housing mobility and cognitive development: Change in verbal and nonverbal abilities. Child abuse & neglect48, 104-118.

Squires, J., Bricker, D., & Twombly, E. (2002). Ages and stages questionnaires: Social-emotional. Baltimore: Brookes.

Putnam, S. P., & Rothbart, M. K. (2006). Development of short and very short forms of the Children’s Behavior Questionnaire. Journal of personality assessment87(1), 102-112.

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