An Ecologically Informed Study of Perceived Emotional Wellbeing in School-Aged Children Experiencing Family Homelessness

UoM administered thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology

  • Authors:
  • Siobhan Mchale


Background and objectives: Family homelessness has been characterised as a hidden crisis with 121,340 children living in temporary accommodation in England in March 2021. There is limited literature and, therefore, understanding of emotional wellbeing in school-aged children and young people who are experiencing family homelessness. This study adopts an original approach to explore the perspectives of: children and others in their ecological system, also highlighting a social justice focus for counselling psychology. Methodology and methods: Fourteen qualitative semistructured interviews were conducted with: school-aged children, parents, and educators with experience of, or supporting, family homelessness. The data were analysed in two reflexive thematic analyses. Ecological, intersectional and social justice lenses were used in synthesis. Analysis: The analysis of the parent and child data generated three themes: 1) Unsafe, unfit, and unsuitable accommodation, no place for a child; 2) Four school moves in two years, the implications for the child in school; and 3) Living a life on hold, family homelessness perceived as a trauma. The analysis of the educator data also generated three themes: 1) A kaleidoscope, homelessness as a shock to the child and their family system; 2) Learning in limbo, emotional wellbeing in education; and 3) The school as an anchor, a point of stability for the child and family. Discussion: The findings conceptualise family homelessness as a shock to the child’s ecological system, which affects their emotional wellbeing and education. They identify welfare austerity and COVID-19 as chronosystem stressors, which amplify precarity. The findings highlight pivotal roles for the family system and the school as points of stability in the child’s ecological system, and the school in connecting the child’s mesosystem. Potential implications for counselling psychology, education, policy, limitations and suggestions for further research are considered.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2021