Poverty and Maternal Stress Worse for Child Health than Homelessness

Poverty and Maternal Stress Worse for Child Health than Homelessness
Jung Min Park, Angela Fertig, Paul Allison
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A report published in the American Journal of Public Health found that poverty and the status of the mother impacts children’s health more than homelessness itself. The study used data from the 20 city Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, and studied the extent to which homelessness explained differences in health, cognitive development, and health care use among 2,631 children. Findings suggest that mothers may be impacted by the stressors of residential instability, which may indirectly affect children. Social services beyond housing are needed to effectively improve the health and development of children who experience residential instability, particularly children in homeless families.

Major findings:

  • A set of stressors common to many children in poverty, rather than housing status, contributed to poor child health and development.
  • Mental health issues among mothers, single motherhood, drug usage in pregnancy, lack of extended family support, and low birth weight are all associated with homelessness.
  • The majority of children (86%) who experienced homelessness were homeless only once in a 5-year period, suggesting it tends to be a temporary situation.
  • Poverty, low educational attainment among mothers, mother’s health, domestic violence and immigrant status are more strongly associated with poor health outcomes among children than homelessness itself.