Poster Session
Issue Date: August 2016
Published Online: August 01, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2021
Need for Social Skills Intervention in Preschool Children Who Experience Poverty as Homeless or Housed
Author Affiliations
  • Saint Louis University
  • Saint Louis University
Article Information
Rehabilitation, Participation, and Disability / Basic Research
Poster Session   |   August 01, 2016
Need for Social Skills Intervention in Preschool Children Who Experience Poverty as Homeless or Housed
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011505174.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011505174.

Date Presented 4/9/2016

Preschoolers’ social skills and need for intervention, reported by mothers who experience ecotoxic stress through homelessness or housed poverty, provides evidence for population health occupational therapy practice models in early identification and intervention to enhance children’s social participation and learning.

Primary Author and Speaker: Debra Rybski

Additional Authors and Speakers: Colleen Huston,

Contributing Author: Heidi Israel

RESEARCH QUESTION: Do mothers who experience poverty either as homeless or housed identify a need for social skills intervention in their preschool children?
RATIONALE: In the United States, 1.6 million children are homeless. Up to 38% of preschool children who are homeless exhibit challenging behaviors, which frequently coincide with difficulties in self-regulation and executive function. These behaviors can diminish a child’s capacity for social inclusion and school performance and later life and work skills. Intervention provided early can address these issues and improve children’s school readiness. A need for social skills intervention can be identified through mother report when a child’s social skills do not meet expectations compared with the importance the mother attributes to the skill (social skill score is lower than importance score).
This study explored children’s social skills, importance attributed by mothers to their children’s social skills, and subsequent need for intervention in social subskills of cooperation, responsibility, self-control, and assertion in families who experienced poverty.
DESIGN: Quantitative methods gathered from mother interviews rated children’s social skills, attributed importance of the skills, calculated intervention need, and compared groups.
PARTICIPANTS: Forty-five homeless and 46 low-income housed mothers ≥18 yr old with a preschool child were recruited respectively from four support living centers and two Head Start centers. Ninety-two percent of mothers reported ethnicity as Black or multiracial.
MEASURES: The Social Skills Rating Scale (SSRS), a parent-report scale, measured child social skill performance (SSP), mother’s attributed importance of her child’s social skills (SSI), and a calculated need for intervention (SSN)
ANALYSIS: Homeless- and housed-group mean SSP, SSI, and SSN total and subscores were compared between homeless and housed groups with t tests.
RESULTS: Total SSP score was lower in homeless than in housed children, t(91) = 1.96, p < .05, and in both groups lower than the normative score. No differences between homeless and housed children for total SSI, t(91) = .895, and total SSN, t(91) = .524, were found. SSP subscores were ranked (high to low): assertion, cooperation, self-control, and responsibility, with no group differences. SSI subscores were highest for self-control and lowest for responsibility in both groups. SSN subscores were highest for self-control in both groups and in responsibility was higher in homeless versus housed children, t(91) = 1.77, p < .05. No need for assertion intervention was identified in either group.
DISCUSSION: The research supports increasing evidence that young children who experience poverty and homelessness are at high risk for social skill problems that may emanate from early ecotoxic stress. Results validate a mother’s role in identifying her child’s social skills or need for intervention and recognize that strengths such as child assertion are important cultural values. Occupational therapy’s role in child find and early intervention is reiterated in this work to address child self-regulation and executive function associated with social skills learning. Future intervention efficacy studies to improve child social skills and school readiness through occupational therapy are recommended.
IMPACT: Poverty can exert ecotoxic stress and, experienced as homeless or housed, may impede child occupational engagement and learning. Child social skills performance and mothers’ indication of importance of or need for intervention provides evidence for occupational therapy, utilizing PEO or family models, to include a two-generation and cultural strengths approach that can serve low-income children in primary care, community-based, and school practice.