The latest national estimate asserts that there are 553,742 people in the United States who are homeless. That's a heartbreaking number under any circumstance, but even more so when you consider a new study that suggests experiencing homelessness for longer than six months can have devastating effects on children.
The damage doesn't only apply to children who are aware of their lack of a stable home, but also during the prenatal and postnatal period as well, before they're even born and just after birth.
Children's HealthWatch, based in Boston Medical Center, set out to learn more about how homeless children are affected by the way in which they are raised, learning that if they don't have a home for a period of six months or longer they are more likely to experience negative health outcomes.
The stress of not having a place to call one's own doesn't only take its toll on a child's caregiver, who is already well aware of the sometimes cruel realities of life, but on the little one themselves.
The study team spoke with 20,000 low-income caregivers of kids under four years of age who visited outpatient pediatric clinics across the country. They asked about the length of time that the children had experienced homelessness and then did a health assessment of the kids, looking at how often they had been hospitalized, their weight, and developmental issues.
None of the findings necessarily came as a surprise to the study authors, after all, homelessness is not conducive to healthy living for anyone of any age, but it does present a fierce call to action for pediatric heath care providers.
Deborah Frank, MD, director of the GROW Clinic at Boston Medical Center, an author of the study, encourages pediatricians to regularly screen families about their housing insecurity, checking in on the past and looking at future risks. If doctors can help intervene and prevent homelessness for both children and pregnant women, they have the chance to be better advocates to drive resources to address housing instability.
Of the 20,000 caregivers interviewed, more than three percent reported experiencing prenatal homelessness, 3.7 percent reported postnatal homelessness, and 3.5 percent reported both.