Whether the child’s homeless condition is one where they are on the streets or in temporary or deficient housing, the effect of this homeless state causes many different degrees of retardation on the child’s development.
The effects of homelessness begin when the child’s family first begins to struggle with the payments on the family home. This could be a result of being unable to pay mortgage repayments, causing mortgage arrears and house repossessions; or unable to keep up with the rent payments. The child and the family lose their homes and a high percentage of these families are placed into temporary accommodation where there could be problems with overcrowding, lack of play area, cold and dampness and lack of a nutritious diet. Families can be moved several times causing the family and the child to become stressful and anxious, the child feels uncertain about the future.
“The experience of homelessness can be broken down into three distinct phases: the initial loss or the threat of the loss of one’s home; the transitory phase of moving into council accommodation (often temporary); and the final stage of being allocated a permanent tenancy, most often in a council or housing association property.” (Daniel and Ivatts: 1998)
Children become involved in the stress and emotional trauma of the family around them. At the time of repossession and re-housing, the family and social networks the child has are put under strain and even broken. The sometimes sudden moves families are made to make create a feeling of not belonging and unable to settle into a place of their own.
The temporary housing the family is placed in is usually cramped, with a lack of space to play or create in. The possible overcrowding can cause friction between family members and the atmosphere the children grow up in is one of unrest and insecurities. Unable to create or play causes an effect on the intellectual development of the child. Having no access to toys or the freedom to ‘make believe’ in a garden is not available. The child’s language, sociability, physical and emotional skills and development is left with unmet potential.
Children suffer psychologically from homelessness, varying from the unsettled environment caused by constant change and upheaval, to the stress’s and anxieties displayed by the parents, which in cramped living conditions is hard to hide from the children. There may be relationship breakdowns and conflicts due to the stress and living conditions.
In temporary accommodation there is the issue of health and safety problems. The housing offered to the family may be poorly heated and damp possibly contributing to respiratory problems. There may be more falls, burns and accidents in the home; there is nowhere safe outside for the child to play so they are kept inside. The child wants to be energetic but there is no space available for them to be free in and play safely, the options are to stop playing inside possibly causing physical, intellectual and emotional developmental problems, or to play inside or outside but be prone to many accidents. The child’s health is affected by lack of sleep due to shared housing or anxieties of the families’ situation. Poor diet from a low income or from the housing itself (bed and breakfast accommodation). They can suffer from over-activity, depression and even aggression as an outlet of their emotions.
There is evidence of increased mental physical, and obstetric ill health compared to the housed populations, and there are many clinical reports of increased ill health and behavioral problems especially among the children. (Royal college of physicians: 1994)
The restricted development of the child in temporary housing causes an effect on their education. Their intellectual development is not allowed to mature, so when entering education they may not have developed as much as housed children. E.g./ socially, emotionally and intellectually.
The problems with education are not all with stunted development, but also other factors such as lack of sleep, health problems and little motivation to go to school. Constant moves and readjustment breaks off any friendships the child may have made. New schools means having to start again and having to make new friends, there may be difficulties in studying at home and finishing work, and the child will have to maintain continuity in the curriculum. Coming from low-income families can create a stigma and the child may be subject to bullying. Entering a school at an awkward time may mean the family has little choice as to where they can send their child; this is because the best schools will probably already be full. The child may have behavioral problems and their attendance will not be perfect.
Homelessness affects the child’s overall development and can change the life of a child and will have many long lasting effects in some area of that child’s life.
Policies put in place to help families in this situation are trying to help reduce the number of homeless households placed in B&B accommodation and ensure that no homeless family with children has to live in a B&B hotel except in an emergency, and even then for no more than 6 weeks. There is more Social housing being provided as this type of accommodation has a vital role to play in providing an affordable alternative for those who do not aspire, or cannot afford, to own or rent a home in the private sector.
These policies try to prevent homelessness by offering advice and support to enable people to stay in their homes, including those for whom the council has no housing duty; there are cost effective services to respond to those people who do become homeless; and are aiming to minimize homelessness in the longer term through interagency working to develop and implement homelessness strategies. These policies will hopefully help families stay together in a home which they all enjoy living in and is home of decent standard.
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