I came across an article the other day about the effects of homelessness on children. The subject is part of a larger commentary on the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Recent studies indicate that not only do traumatic childhood events affect our mental health as adults, buy also our physical well being. In fact “many official causes of death, like cancer, smoking, AIDs, heavy drinking, or diabetes” can be the result of that underlying trauma. Homelessness is not only one of those stressors all on its own, but often the springboard for additional trauma: emotional, physical and sexual abuse; having an incarcerated relative; mother treated violently; mental illness within the family; parental divorce; substance use; and physical and emotional neglect.
The article made so many good points, I wanted to quote them all here for everyone to read, but I think the text is best read in author Perry Firth’s own words. Here are the passages that jumped out at me, but please click through the link to the entire article.
“What Dr. Blodgett found won’t shock anyone involved with this work, or for that matter, anyone who intuitively understands the importance of stability in a child’s life. In his study of elementary children, homelessness was as equally powerful in predicting troubling mental and physical health outcomes as other traumas, such as child abuse.”
“the brain doesn’t care what the stressful event is; it only registers the event as stressful. That is why children who are experiencing homelessness in many cases have the same chronic health outcomes as a child who has experienced abuse or neglect. If there was ever an argument for early intervention, it would be this.”
“Another way to look homelessness is not just to examine it from the standpoint of childhood, but to ask whether it can be an outcome of extreme stress during an adult’s youth. Questions assessing just that relationship between toxic stress in childhood and adult homelessness were added to the 2010 and 2011 BRFSS. What was revealed is that those adults who had experienced higher levels of adverse childhood experiences are also those adults more likely to experience homelessness. Adult homelessness can be the outcome of toxic stress in childhood.”
“But I would like to point out that every negative impact I have written about here is a preventable outcome. If we commit time and resources, there is no reason why any child or adult needs to go without shelter, mental health care, or in the case of stressed families, stabilizing parenting interventions. It all becomes a question of motivation and action. Yes, there is an uphill battle to fight. But that does not change the fact that childhood trauma is wrong, in all of its forms.”
via Firesteel / Blog / Children and Adversity: Childhood Homelessness Can Cast a Long Shadow. By Perry Firth, Graduate Student, Seattle University Community Counseling, and Project Assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness