Residential instability and children's well-being




Harris, Alicia C.

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The impact of residential instability to children's well-being has long been debated. In recent years, despite increased research, some elements of children's adjustment into their new environments remain indiscernible. While previous studies found residential mobility to be a mediating factor on the relationship between children's well-being and unstable homes, other studies suggested children from stable homes are affected by frequent residential moves. This is the first study to use nationally representative panel data to explore the effects of residential moves in early childhood, adolescence, and in tandem, familial vs. non-familial causes of residential moves, as indicators of family stability. This study makes use of data from the 1998-1999 Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that followed children overtime from kindergarten to eighth grade. Multiple measures of children's well-being are utilized. These include eighth grade teachers' ratings of their students' ability, understanding, and behavior in academic areas as well as students' self-reports of anxiety and depression. Children's adjustment level is investigated to explore whether the role of social support available in their school environment can modify and/or mediate the negative effects of residential mobility on children's well-being. Additionally, their participation in school activities is similarly analyzed. Residential mobility is linked with lower academic outcomes, particularly during early childhood. Both children from unstable and stable homes are negatively influenced by frequent residential moves. The results suggest long-lasting effects in academic areas, particularly children's oral language skills. Significant effects from children's adjustment in school and their participation in school activities highlight the importance of school environments as well as students' level of engagement in school functions on children's well-being. Notable moderating and offsetting effects from both children's level of adjustment and activity engagement are found to promote multiple measures of well-being. This investigation concludes with policy implications and directions for future research.


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activity participation, children, family, residential instability, school adjustment, well-being