Non-shelter outcomes of housing: a case study of the relationships between housing and children's schooling

Children Education Community housing Housing and health F H McKenzie collection Public housing Brisbane

The goal of this research is to provide a clearer understanding of the non-shelter impacts of housing, and in particular of the possible processes by which aspects of housing may impact on aspects of schooling. The intention is not to prove a causal relationship, rather to shed light on mechanisms. To that end the approach taken is qualitative, involving in-depth semi-structured interviews with a sample of public housing tenants and a smaller group of educators. This thesis begins with an examination of previous research around this topic. This review identifies past studies that highlight the possible negative effects of transience as a contributor to isolation; the role that neighbourhood may play in encouraging or discouraging the valuing of schooling; a possible link between crowding and punitive parenting practices; and the impact that high housing costs can have on stress levels and therefore health. This thesis details research that builds on this earlier body of work. Given findings from earlier studies (in particular the importance of neighbourhood effects identified in some United States studies), a sampling framework was developed to ensure a reasonable number of households who had experienced a change in neighbourhood as well as housing conditions. As well, an interview schedule was developed to provide a framework to ensure that possible pathways between housing and schooling identified in earlier research would be explored in these interviews. Public tenants were chosen as the population group from which to draw the interview sample, as this group have undergone a significant housing change (when they moved into public housing), and their income levels increase the chances of them having lived in poor quality housing in the past. A small number of interviews with educators were also conducted. Schools were chosen randomly from outer suburbs where poor quality housing and transience were expected to impact on school populations. As well an inner-city school in a gentrifying suburb was also selected for interview. These interviews identified four main themes: transience, housing amenity, neighbourhood and cost. Transience may be a significant problem for children who are already struggling in the school system, especially those who are receiving school based remediation. For these children, moving house may interrupt important remediation work at school, and may result in children falling further and further behind their peers. Also, transience may contribute to family stress levels which may impact on health and happiness, thereby reducing motivation and levels of school attendance. Housing amenity can impact on health, as a result of injuries related to poorly maintained or designed housing, from stress associated with noise and broken sleep, and from insect born illnesses due to the absence of insect screens. Possibly the most significant housing amenity related health impact seems to be due to the link between asthma, and dust and mildew. Neighbourhood seems to have the potential to be a significant positive and negative force in people's lives. Supportive neighbours can make single parenting much less stressful, for example by helping with child-care, increasing the sense of safety, and reducing isolation. Hostile neighbours, on the other hand, can create levels of stress that may force adults and children indoors to avoid conflict. High housing costs can cause significant stress for families. For those who are already suffering from stress this additional pressure may contribute to stress related ill-health. As well, these families may not be able to afford to eat properly, and may not be able to afford to pay for extra-curricula activities such as school outings, dance classes etc. Poor diet may contribute to increased incidents of illness, and extra days missed from school. These insights suggest some changed approaches to the design and delivery of housing assistance in Australia, so as to maximise the non-shelter benefits of such interventions.

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