Residential mobility: The direct and indirect effects on children, adolescents and families

BA Teater

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


Summary: Residential mobility is an unexplored topic in social work education and practice, but is an experience for many individuals involved with social services. This presentation reports on the direct and indirect effects of mobility on children and families and provides a rationale for exploring this topic in social work education. Abstract: Residential mobility is a topic often neglected in social work education and practice, but is an experience for many individuals and families involved with social services. Residential mobility is simply defined as “whether or not a move occurred” (Morris et al., 1976). Scanlon & Devine (2001) explain how the United States is described as a “nation of movers,” and according to Hansen (2001), “about one in six Americans move each year, with an average of 11.7 moves in a lifetime” (p. 1). Rates of residential mobility are greater for households headed by persons between the ages of 16 and 29 (Foulkes & Newbold, 2005; Teater, 2009), who are currently unemployed or unable to work (Boheim & Taylor, 1999; Burrows, 1999), from a minority ethnic group (Schachter & Kuenzi, 2002; Teater, 2009), and lone parent/s (Burrows, 1999). Researchers often evaluate how residential mobility impacts the economic climate, the social climate, or individuals and families. Economic impacts are evident where greater rates of residential mobility in one or more geographical area produces population changes leading to increases in housing prices and demand for public services (Donovan et al., 2002), or a change in the availability of labour opportunities (Burrows, 1999). Social impacts can include reduced levels of social networks and social capital (Cole et al., 2007; Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 1995), or an increase in homelessness, congestion and overcrowding (Donovan et al., 2002). The individual and familial impacts tend to manifest in the education of children, such as reduced academic performance or attainment (Crowder & South, 2003; Leckie, 2009; Pribesh & Downey, 1999; South et al., 2007), behaviour or emotional difficulties (Haynie et al., 2006; Haynie & South, 2005; Keels, 2008; Parente & Mahoney, 2009), sexual activity and teenage pregnancy (Crowder & Teachman, 2004; South et al., 2005; Sucoff & Upchurch, 1998), use of illegal substances (Lee, 2007), social competence, connections and self-esteem (Belot & Ermisch, 2009; Kan, 2007; Oishi et al., 2007; Pettit & McLanahan, 2003) or health outcomes (Jelleyman & Spencer, 2008; Pearce et al., 2008). Such economic, social and individual and familial effects of mobility can often lead individuals and families to social service programmes in order to overcome such obstacles. Social worker may be faced with attempting to resolve the presenting problem with the client while failing to recognise that the presenting problem may actually be rooted in repeated residential mobility. Individuals and families do not only decide to be mobile, but government initiated programs may actually encourage mobility. The federal government currently promotes the act of residential mobility through low-income subsidized housing programs, such as the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, where recipients are encouraged to be mobile in attempts to move to lower poverty, less segregated neighbourhoods (U.S. House, 2003). Therefore, rates of residential mobility may not be solely through the choice of individuals and families but may actually be promoted by the government through low-income housing programs. Social workers should be cognizant to the potential influence and contribution of residential mobility to the presenting problem of the client with whom they work. This knowledge can begin to develop through an understanding of the direct and indirect effects of residential mobility to children, adolescents and families. This presentation provides an overview of such knowledge by highlighting the rates of residential mobility, the characteristics of individuals most mobile in U.S. society, and the direct and indirect effects on children, adolescents and families. This presentation will provide a rationale based on current research for why social work educators and practitioners should be concerned with residential mobility and what can be done in social work practice to minimise the effects for children, adolescents and families.
Translated title of the contributionResidential mobility: The direct and indirect effects on children, adolescents and families
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCouncil on Social Work Education, Portland, Oregon
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

Conference Organiser: CSWE


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