SOCIETY

Homelessness Creates Mental Health Issues In Children

Feb 19, 2015 at 2:28 PM ET

The rough economy hasn’t just been hard on adults—the number of homeless youth in the United States has reached an all-time high of 2.5 million. To make matters worse, new research has found that 1 in 4 of these kids face mental health issues.

“These children have often been exposed to domestic or neighborhood violence, chronic poverty, inadequate health care and other circumstances that place any child at risk of mental health problems,” says study co-author Dr. Mary Haskett, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.

Drawing on data from CATCH, a Salvation Army-funded initiative that evaluates the mental health needs of children at shelters in North Carolina, the researchers were able to screen 328 children between the ages of 2 months and 6 years old. They noted impaired social-emotional functioning in 25 percent of the children—a rate two to three times higher than in kids in the general population—and found that school-age, homeless children (between 5 and 6 years old) performed well below average when it came to language and academic skills.

“Children in shelters are often overlooked—they’re basically invisible,” Armstrong says. “But these findings highlight the importance of providing resources to meet the needs of these children. …We’re talking about 625,000 children who need mental health support every year in the United States. We, as a society, can’t afford to let these kids down.”

Sadly, mental health isn’t the only place where homeless children are especially vulnerable. Compared with the general population, they are:

  • Four times more likely to have asthma.
  • Twice as likely to have learning disabilities.
  • Five times more likely to experience gastrointestinal problems.
  • Four times more likely to show delayed development.
  • Twice as likely to go hungry.