Written By: Sharon E. Chin
The alarming increase in the sheer number of homeless children and youth within the past few years requires a closer look at the population and their needs. This raises questions like: What are the needs of homeless children? What programs are currently available to them, and are their services being used by their intended audiences? Are the programs effective?
When considering the mental health of out of home people, the American Psychological Association (APA) states that individuals without homes tend to have higher rates of poor health and mental illness compared to the general population. Limited access to healthcare and chronic problems tend to hinder employment opportunities from adults, and increases school absences in children. Unfortunately, the issues felt by children in homelessness are also experienced by low-income housed children; both groups have similar risks for mental illnesses.
Due to these similarities, a study was conducted to compare the use of mental health services between homeless and poor, housed, children. Titled “Homelessness and Children’s Use of Mental Health Services: A Population-Based Study”, the research sought to consider whether or not the experience of homelessness impacted the use of mental health services for these children. With the use of Medicaid records, Philadelphian children who were homeless were compared with never-homeless children by their use of mental health services over a period of six years.
Demographically, children who were homeless were different from those in low-income housing. Homeless children were made up of more Blacks in proportion to low-income children, and were younger on average. Additionally, homeless children were more likely to be in the foster care system compared to low-income children. Those actually using the services, however, were more likely to be male, non-Hispanic white and Hispanic.
The mental health services from low-income children proved to be more costly compared to homeless children, but children who were homeless were comparatively more likely to receive mental health services. This might be because homeless children need more services, or that they receive more attention by health professionals because of their out of home state.
It is clear that homeless children need to and use mental health services, but because of connections to foster care and shelters, inter-agency efforts are needed to better target at-risk youth.
Sharon E. Chin is an MPH candidate at Rutgers University and is Social Media Editor for Cancer InCytes magazine. Her interests are exploring social justice issues through public health lenses.
- American Psychological Association. Accessed: 2015Feb. “Health & Homelessness”. http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/homelessness-health.aspx.
- Park, J. et al. (2012Jan1). “Homelessness and Children’s Use of Mental Health Services: A Population-Based Study”. Child Youth Serv Rev. 34(1): 261-265 .
Resource Alert: Children, Homelessness & Mental Health Services was originally published @ Cancer inCYTES Blog and has been syndicated with permission.