Early Intervention for Families Experiencing Homelessness: A Pilot Randomized Trial Comparing Two Parenting Programs


As part of a larger community-based, service-driven research project, the primary purpose of this pilot randomized study was to examine the feasibility and acceptability of delivering time-limited adaptations of parent–child interaction therapy (PCIT) and child–parent psychotherapy (CPP) within a sample of children experiencing homelessness. The secondary goal was to examine the promise of both interventions in improving parent/child outcomes. Method: One hundred forty-four young children (18 month–5 years old; Mage = 3.48, SD = 1.09; 43.1% female; 78.5% Black/African American; 27.1% Hispanic) and their mothers were recruited from a women’s homeless shelter and randomly assigned to 12 weeks of either PCIT or CPP delivered by shelter clinicians on-site. Attendance, fidelity, and program satisfaction were obtained. Families completed pre- and postintervention assessments, including observational data on maternal verbalizations during a child-led play session.


Both time-limited PCIT and time-limited CPP were successfully implemented with similarly high levels of intervention fidelity (>90%) and satisfaction by mothers (85%). Completion rates were similar across both time-limited PCIT (76.6%) and time-limited CPP (71.4%). Both time-limited CPP and PCIT resulted in decreases in children’s posttraumatic stress, parental stress, and increases in maternal positive verbalizations. Only time-limited PCIT resulted in significant improvements in externalizing behavior problems in children and reductions in maternal negative verbalizations.


Time-limited PCIT and CPP are acceptable, feasible, and hold significant promise for helping families within a homeless shelter environment and by extension, other transitional and/or shelter environments. A full randomized trial is warranted to determine which program may offer a more effective intervention.

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Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology