Homeless children experiencing ‘significant’ mental health difficulties

Children in emergency accommodation ‘more likely to be bullied’, study finds

The study says ‘serious harm’ is being done to these children’s health as they face ‘unacceptable health risks and harm’. Photograph: iStock

The study says ‘serious harm’ is being done to these children’s health as they face ‘unacceptable health risks and harm’. Photograph: iStock

 

Almost 40 per cent of homeless children are experiencing “clinically significant” mental health and behavioural difficulties, a major study published on Wednesday finds.

The report from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland says children in emergency or unsafe accommodation are “more likely to be bullied and less likely to see their friends” while homeless children are “twice” as likely to require hospitalisation as their housed peers.

The most recent data from the Department of Housing showed in September there were 3,873 homeless children in 1,7,56 families. Of these families 57 per cent (1,011) were headed by single parents.

The study, the Impact of Homelessness and Inadequate Housing on Children’s Health, says “serious harm” is being done to these children’s health as they face “unacceptable health risks and harm”.

From birth, babies born into homelessness are more likely to be born pre-term and underweight that babies born into secure housing.

Poor physical health

Children in homelessness suffer higher rates of asthma, respiratory illness and infectious diseases; have poor nutrition and more obesity; less access to developmental opportunities, play, recreation and social activities; poorer emotional and mental health, and increased behavioural difficulties; less access to preventive health care and lower rates of childhood immunisation.

Their parents or guardians are at higher risk of relationship difficulties with other adults and with them - their children.

Dr Julie Heslin, lead author, said: “We know that the impact on a person’s health and wellbeing of adverse experiences in childhood lasts well beyond childhood and becomes apparent in adult life as mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties, as well as physical disease, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes.”

Actions

Some 20 actions must be taken immediately to mitigate the worst impacts of homelessness on the children, says the RCPI.

These include assignment of a key worker to each family, prioritisation of homeless children and pregnant women in health services, and, provision of adequate mental health services for children and their parents, as early as possible.

The study, which also highlights the impact of overcrowded and inadequate housing on children too, is published on World Children’s Day and marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ireland ratified the UNCRC September 28th, 1992.

It states: “Every child has the right to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.”