Faceless Generation? The Mental Health State of Homeless Children Living in the U.S.

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Complete economic depravity, limited to no access to appropriate mental health care, inability to secure stable housing, all are issues commonly faced by the homeless living in this country every day.  Access to appropriate mental health for those who are homeless has had light shed on it before. This is not new, but not so commonly spoken about are the children and adolescents who are homeless. Although the ability to precisely measure the exact number of persons experiencing homelessness can be difficult, statistics have shown that there are approximately 1.5 million children in this country who experience homelessness every year. These children are often members of families who are homeless or who themselves are unaccompanied youth.

Due to the transient nature of many of these children’s lives they are at an increased risk for significant behavioral and emotional issues that often times go not diagnosed, due to being victims of or witnessing domestic violence, moving constantly due to lack of stable housing, or being separated from their families and placed in the child welfare system. Often a child’s symptoms that result from the stress of homelessness, can manifest as anxiety, depression, extreme withdrawal, poor concentration or various forms of “acting out,” such as tantrums, as well as attachment disorders.  Adolescents often experience higher rates of mood disorders, suicide attempts, conduct disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder compared to age-matched peers who are in stable housing and school environments.

The fact of the matter remains that even though mental health care exists in this country, access and availability to those who may need it the most does not. This, unfortunately, is the case for homeless children living in the United States. Greater emphasis on the importance of addressing the state of homelessness and the mental health state of homeless children from a policy standpoint needs to take place if lasting impact is the ultimate goal. These children are already slipping through the cracks.

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10 Responses to “Faceless Generation? The Mental Health State of Homeless Children Living in the U.S.”

  1. leighefird Says:

    I agree this is a very important issue that needs more attention. I was personally unaware of the issue of increasing numbers of homeless children and the effects that homelessness has on their mental health until a few years ago when a local TV station did a story on these families in Baltimore County. Since then summer programs for homeless children and increased access for homeless teens through Healthcare for the Homeless have been put in place in Baltimore. This is obviously a population that has many life years that could be affected by something they have no control over at a young age. More programs should be put in place to help parents identify and providers treat mental health disorders in these children.

  2. jjgpierce Says:

    This is a very important topic and, as you point out, is not often discussed in the news. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 will expand mental health coverage beginning in 2014 to include services that will be on par with medical and surgical coverage. The Department of HSS estimates that 32.1 million Americans will gain access to mental health and an additional 30.4 million will have their mental health services expanded. This includes approximately 27 million Americans currently without insurance, which covers the majority of the homeless. The ACA will also expand Medicaid to cover more lower income people and CHIP is to be extended.

    Barriers to implementation are present, however, such as needed child mental health professionals, resources, money, organization, disseminating mental health information to the people in need, and overcoming the stigma of mental health problems. A George Washington University study in 2013 found that implementing and addressing child mental health in the school setting has the most impact.

    The USA is making strides to address and improve childhood mental healthcare. Follow through will be necessary to meet the stated goals.

  3. jjgpierce Says:

    Links to comment:
    Department of HSS: http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/2013/mental/rb_mental.cfm#_ftnref5

    GWU paper: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/as-affordable-care-act-expands-coverage-for-childrens-mental-health-services-new-report-exposes-barriers-and-opportunities-195645121.html

  4. Fabulous Friends in Philanthropy Says:

    Reblogged this on Fabulous Friends in Philanthropy.

  5. jayeawatson1 Says:

    What scares me the most regarding this issue is that in order to truly address the mental health of homeless children you must first attain some form of a stable home environment. Unfortunately attaining that may be the hardest part of this entire situation. Poverty and homelessness unfortunately is not just an urban issue, but also a rural one as well. A homeless child in rural Texas does not necessarily look like a homeless child in a shelter in Philadelphia.

    I definitely agree that the school system may be one of the frontline players in addressing this issue in children, as this may be the one consistent refuge in a homeless child’s life. But factors such as overcrowding, lack of staffing, inability to identify mental health problems also play a role. Take for instance here in Philadelphia, currently the public school system is undergoing a significant budget crisis. Many ancillary staff, such as school counselors and psychologists, and teachers have been let go. The faces that these children need to see everyday will not be there.

    Being that facilitating a stable home environment may be the most difficult secondary to other extenuating circumstances, I believe addressing social interaction and greater community involvement with homeless children is fundamental. These children need to see and have people in their lives who are consistently there in a positive manner. For adolescents having that support system is key to development, and may actually foster some sense of normalcy in their already disrupted lives.

  6. jayeawatson1 Says:

    Thank you for reposting Fabulous Friends in Philanthropy

  7. chiani445 Says:

    As you mentioned, it is an issue that seems obvious enough and sometimes crosses the minds of the average american, but it is unfortunate that there is not more efforts being made to create the needed access to mental health care.
    A large deterrent to the problem is homelessness in and of itself. The lack of stability makes the issue so much more difficult to resolve. A child who may connect with a counselor on one day, may choose to never come back again or may fall into a situation that does not permit them to return. Children and adolescents are already emotionally and mentally more vulnerable. Their ability to make certain choices while living in such dire situations may be very poor.

    As programs that address homelessness in genereal reach out to these individuals, is there some incorporation of mental health care already included? Maybe screening questions or programs that may funnel the child to a better place of mental and behavioral functioning?
    I am afraid I do not have a very strong suggestion for how to even begin to tackle such a difficult problem, but it is worthwhile and our policy makers need to understand that

  8. healing heroes network Says:

    healing heroes network

    Faceless Generation? The Mental Health State of Homeless Children Living in the U.S. | SBFPHC Policy Advocacy

  9. relevant resource site Says:

    relevant resource site

    Faceless Generation? The Mental Health State of Homeless Children Living in the U.S. | SBFPHC Policy Advocacy

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