Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Early Childhood Education and Care

First Advisor

Songtian Zeng

Second Advisor

Janette Herbers

Third Advisor

Angi Stone-MacDonald


One in 16 American children under age six experience homelessness annually; in fact, infancy is the age at which someone is most likely to be living in a homeless shelter. Despite decades of research documenting the impact of homelessness on families, there are still gaps in our knowledge, particularly related to the experiences of mothers and their very young children. One such gap is asking caregivers about their experiences of forming relationships with their infants. Specifically, this study seeks to answer this question: What are the experiences of mothers in forming relationships with their infants while living in shelters? Sub-questions include: What role does social connectedness play in mothers’ experiences forming these relationships? What role does shelter context play in mothers’ experiences forming these relationships? What other factors do mothers describe in discussing their experiences forming relationships with their infants? Using a phenomenological approach that included semi-structured interviews, Five Minute Speech Samples, and ecomaps, I interviewed seven women with children ages four to 24 months living in shelters in Massachusetts. Findings spanned six themes: Parenting, Maternal Wellbeing, Systems Navigation, Support, Family History, and Recovery. These themes have implications for practice, policy, and research, as discussed.


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