Twenty-five percent of homeless children need mental health services -- far more than children in the general population.
Those are the findings of a new study conducted by researchers at North Carolina University and Community Action Targeting Children who are Homeless (CATCH) -- a Salvation Army-funded project that works with homeless families in North Carolina.
According to a news release from North Carolina State University, researchers worked with data based on 328 children living with their parents in homeless shelters or transitional housing in Wake County, North Carolina. The children were between 2 months and 6 years old.
Dr. Mary Haskett, a professor of psychology at NC State University and a lead researcher on the project says, "These children have often been exposed to domestic or neighborhood violence, chronic poverty, inadequate healthcare and other circumstances that place any child at risk of mental health problems."
The co-author of the paper, Jenna Armstrong, a Ph.D student at NC State University explains, "As a result of their exposure to those difficult life circumstances -combined with living in a shelter - homeless children are at a much greater risk of developmental delays, social and emotional problems, and problems at school."
The researchers describe the scale of the problem as "huge" and point to a 2014 report from the National Center on Family Homelessness that found that 2.5 million children are homeless each year in the United States.
According to Armstrong, "Children in shelters are often overlooked -- they're basically invisible... But these findings highlight the importance of providing resources to meet the needs of these children. Twenty-five% of 2.5 million is 625,000. So, we're talking about 625,000 children who need mental health support every year in the United States. We, as a society, can't afford to let these kids down."
According to Columbia University's National Center for Children in Poverty -- children 5 years old and younger in the general population require mental services at a rate of 10% to 14%.