America's Youngest Outcasts: Report Card on Child Homelessness
This month, The American Institutes For Research released a shocking report on child homelessness in the United States. According to the 2013 census data provided by the Department of Education, 1 in every 30 children had experienced homelessness within the given year. An unimaginable 2.5 million children (historic high) are currently homeless within the United States and the rate of homelessness increased in 31 of the 50 states - up over 8% overall from the previous year. In 2006, about 1 in every 50 children (1.5 million) experienced homelessness within the school year. The homelessness rate rose to 1 in every 45 children in 2010 and then sky rocketed to over 1 in every 30 children in 2013 (over 2.5 million).
Researchers utilized data from the United States Department of Education to determine the breadth and scope of child homelessness throughout the United States. The federal McKinney-Vento act requires all local education agencies to count the number of homeless children each school year. Each year, federal agencies publish comprehensive data, including 30 variables from 12 datasets on child homelessness.
How Did We Get Here?
Child homelessness was first identified as a major social issue in the United States back in the mid-1980's (Burt 1992). The rate of child homelessness has increased steadily since that time and now accounts for over 37% of the overall American homeless population. The average homeless child's family consists of a single mother with two children, typically under age 6. The mothers typically report with major mental health issues and have often been the victim of domestic violence. Not surprisingly, the families typically move often, live in substandard and dangerous neighborhoods and possess absolutely no resources. These conditions inevitably lead to a perpetual cycle of homelessness, lack of education, and an increase in mental health problems. Up to 40% of homeless children experience major mental health problems, including debilitating anxiety.
What Are the Major Causes of Child Homelessness?
The major causes of child homelessness in the United States include: (1) the nation's high poverty rate; (2) lack of affordable housing across the nation; (3) continuing impacts of the Great Recession; (4) racial disparities; (5) the challenges of single parenting; and (6) the ways in which traumatic experiences, especially domestic violence, precede and prolong homelessness for families.
How Do We Mitigate Child Homelessness
The most effective responses to child homelessness include: (1) safe affordable housing; (2) education and employment opportunities; (3) comprehensive needs assessments of all family members (4) services that incorporate trauma-informed care (5) attention to identification, prevention, and treatment of major depression in mothers; (6) parenting supports for mothers; (7) research to identify evidence-based programs and services.
Researchers behind the report ranked each state with a composite score from performance across four domains: (1) extent of child homelessness (adjusted for state population); (2) child well-being; (3) risk for child homelessness; (4) state Policy and Planning efforts. Each state is assigned a ranking from 1 to 50, with 50 being the worst and 1 being the best.
Where Does My State Rank?
2. NEW JERSEY
3. RHODE ISLAND
10. SOUTH DAKOTA
17. SOUTH CAROLINA
21. NORTH CAROLINA
22. NEW HAMPSHIRE
25. NORTH DAKOTA
42. WEST VIRGINIA
44. NEW MEXICO
49. NEW YORK
The Impact of Homelessness
The consequences of child homelessness are incredible and can last for generations. Homeless children often develop at a slower pace, miss more school, experience pathological anxiety, and either struggle through school or drop out altogether. Stress and trauma caused by such circumstances not only lend to impending mental health issues, but also impede the learning process of the child. Research indicates that high levels of cortisol, caused by stress and trauma, correlate directly with a decreased capacity for the brain to learn and develop properly. Homeless children are four times as likely to experience developmental delays, twice as likely to have a learning disability, and are twice as likely to repeat grades (missed school day 0r poor performance).
Homeless children are also sick four times more often than other children and also experience three times the rate of emotional and behavioral disturbances as said children. Homeless children are also exposed to violence at a much higher rate than other children. Over 83% of homeless children have experienced a significant violent event by age 12. Likewise, over 25% of homeless children have witnessed violence within their own family. How successful would you be if you were dealt this deck of cards?
Have a Heart
I previously published an article about empathy and the increasing role the lack of empathy is playing throughout American society. Research indicates that people are less empathic than they were 20 years ago — as a result — narcissism is playing an increased role in human interactions. The problems with child homelessness will not go away without significant human intervention. Next time you meet a homeless person, don't dismiss their circumstances as mere choice. And don't make assumptions about the circumstances that led him or her to homelessness.
This population needs your help more than ever. There is no room for rationalizing the misfortunes of children who have no place to call home. There is no room for blame. There is no room for ignoring the problem. There is only room for people willing to invest in their lives and truly make a difference. Find a way to get involved in your community to help alleviate this growing humanitarian crisis. Child homelessness is impacting virtually every community around the nation. Be a beacon of light to a population mired in otherwise dark, malevolent circumstances. Have a heart. Lend a hand. Make a difference.
*Please note statistics and data in this article was supplied by the research report named above.