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Homeless Children in America
The presence of adequate housing plays a crucial role in the well-being of children during their growth. Furthermore, stable housing plays a pivotal role in the progressive development of children into their adulthood. Unfortunately, the number of homeless children has witnessed exponential growth in the recent years warranting more efforts to forestall the impending crisis. This is mainly attributable to inaccessibility of affordable housing and the worsening economic crisis. Moreover, the current economic recession and the resulting housing crisis have greatly increased the likelihood of more children succumbing to the threat of homelessness.
Homeless children can be categorized into those who experience family homelessness and those who are unaccompanied. The former are children living in homeless families while the latter are homeless on their own. According to Aratani (2009), approximately 1.5 million children in the United States live in families without adequate housing. More worryingly, about 42% of these are children under the age of six thereby greatly reducing their chances of having a prosperous adulthood. Children of African American descendant are greatly disadvantaged with 47% coming from homeless families. Moreover, children from the Indian and Alaskan ethnicities have approximately 2% chance of homelessness in the United States. Aratani (2009) further states that another notable fact amongst these homeless families is that a single mother in her twenties usually acts as the breadwinner.
A further 1.7 million children constitute the unaccompanied youth segment of the homeless children annually. These include youth who stay away overnight from their homes without their guardianââ‚¬â„¢s permission. Another category comprises of those children who were chased from home or opted to leave at their own volition. This category also comprises of throwaway youth whose parents could no longer live with them due to their deliquesce behavior. The final category of unaccompanied children comprises of children who left home due to irreconcilable differences with their families. Such cases usually results from conflicts within the family leading to loss of contact with their parents.Girls are also considerably larger in number among runaway homeless and independent children. In addition, African-American and Native American youth form the largest proportion among all three types of unaccompanied youth.
Factors that Contribute to Homelessness
Swick, (2010) argues that homelessness represents a major deprivation from one of the most fundamental human needs. Another type of deprivation includes lack of inadequate food leading to hunger and malnutrition. The main causes of these inadequacies are majorly linked to poverty and economic insecurity. However, other factors that adversely contribute to homelessness are multi-faceted. These factors also vary depending on the type of homelessness experienced by children in the United States. They include inaccessibility to affordable housing, economic instability, home based violence, behavioral health, inadequate social support, and involvement in the child welfare system.
Lack of Affordable Housing
The number of affordable housing units in the United States has steadily declined in the past decade. As Arattani (2009) affirms, the period between 1993 and 2003 witnessed a 13% drop in the proportion of affordable, low cost houses due to the massive loss of older, low-quality apartments in the private market segment. He further argues that in 2005, approximately 40% of households with children aged between 0 and 17 reported at least one housing problem. These ranged from inadequate housing space leading to crowding to rising costs of renting. Generally, any household paying in excess of 30% of its annual income on rent is regarded as living in the red.
Although the percentage of families reporting challenges of inadequate housing and crowding declined between 1978 and 2005, 34 % of households reported a rising cost burden resulting from rising rental costs in the same period. On the contrary, a paltry 15% of households reported this worrying cost burden in 1978. Overall, the number of families reporting severe housing problems had drastically increased from just 8% in 1978 to 13.8 % in 2005. Indeed the unmet demand for decent and affordable rental housing units had been on the rise way before the current housing crisis (Hicks, Burnside & Peters, 2003).
Gray (2009) agrees that way before the financial and foreclosure crisis hit, the number of homeless children in the United States had peaked at alarming rates. The Center on Family Homelessness in its 2009 report disclosed that at least one in every 50 children in the United States was homeless between 2005 and 2006. The cumulative 1.5 million kids between that period was further expected to rise due to the worsening economic conditions. Moreover, a study conducted with different parameters and published in 2000 had already put the total at 1.35 million homeless kids each year.
According to Hicks, Burnside & Peters (2003), by 2005, more than 60 % of families were spending more than 50% of their disposable income on rent. A similar percentage of households were also living in pathetic and inadequate housing units. Inadequate affordable housing coupled with the current economic crisis will certainly add to the rising levels of homeless children. From the beginning of the economic recession in late December 2007, the proportion of unemployed people has risen by roughly than seven million, to 14.5 million. In addition, the overall unemployment rate has also risen to approximately 9.4%.
This essentially makes low-income families vulnerable to layoffs. They further add that amongst homeless households with children, a higher proportion of 80% are female headed. Furthermore, 54 % of children from low-income households reside with a single parent. To worsen the situation, the larger proportions of homeless mothers rely on public assistance. This has also contributed to widespread escapes from home leading to forced homelessness.
Violence at Home
Aratani (2009) further agrees that violence at home is a major contributor to children homelessness. For instance, amongst homeless households, more than 80% have previously experienced domestic violence. Disturbances at home occasionally lead to instances of c children running away from home to seek better children. Moreover, domestic violence causes major challenges in the childââ‚¬â„¢s physical and psychological development. These include exposure to traumatic experiences that affect their emotional well-being. Consequently, parental has been proven as a major determinant of housing instability. Furthermore, unaccompanied children normally have prior experiences of violence. These range from witnessing actual violence to being abused physically or sexually. In most cases, children in foster care and homeless initiatives recall incidences of physical and psychological abuse from their family members.
Involvement in the Child Welfare System
Indeed, children living in foster care are severely exposed to homelessness. About 49% of children in foster care have a history of running away from home. Furthermore, American children of the Indian ethnicity in foster care are more likely to run away from home compared with their white counterparts.
The Impact of Homelessness on Children
Behavioral health problems are consequences of children running away from home and eventually becoming homeless. This is partly due to the higher risks of exposure to violence and trauma when a child is away from the care of an adult. Moreover, unaccompanied youth are at a higher risk of going into depression (Swick, 2010). This may in time lead to mental health issues or substance abuse compared with children living in their families. Therefore, children who have previous experience with homelessness are at a higher risk of exhibiting tragic behavioral problems compared with sheltered children.
Lack of Positive Social Support
Homeless families generally exhibit unreliable, weak and unsteady social support structures to aid in a childââ‚¬â„¢s development. Moreover, such families have fewer viable social networks consequently resulting in reduced social support. Furthermore, homeless families that have wider social networks rarely utilize the importance of such networks. However, these networks play a crucial role as resources for positive support and form strong foundations for strong relationships when used wisely. Aratani (2009) reaffirms that unaccompanied children are more inclined to expose problems within their families. Furthermore, they tend to rely on their friends as a more significant source of support than their parents do. In addition, they substitute street networks in place of their failed family networks.
Swick (2010) adds that about 60 % of homeless children face the challenge of inadequate food in terms of quantity, preference and frequency of meals. Approximately 40% cite fasting as an everyday experience while due to their inability to access food. Indeed children coming from homeless families experience severe food insecurity given their diminished capacity to secure adequate food.
The problem of food insecurity due to homelessness further affects negatively on the health of the affected children. Therefore, homeless children often bear the consequences of poor health compared with sheltered low-income children. Moreover, homeless mothers report more cases of health complications affecting their children ranging from fevers to diarrhea and asthma compared to sheltered mothers. In addition, homeless youth are at a higher risk of contracting STDs because of their risky social lifestyles. These include the inconsistent use of condoms, having multiple sexual partners and sharing needles. Moreover, homeless female children have a significantly higher chance of falling prey to unplanned teenage pregnancies (Hicks, Burnside & Peters, 2003).
Exposure to Trauma
According to Hicks, Burnside & Peters, (2003), children from homeless families also have a greater risk of experiencing severe mental health problems in comparison to their sheltered peers. A study on school-going children amongst homeless families indicated that a large proportion of homeless children experience mental disorders. Such children are often exposed to disruptive behavior disorders, social phobia, and depression that significantly affect their interaction with their peers. This is in huge contrast with their sheltered counterparts who rarely suffer from these conditions. In addition, homeless children and youth often experience or witness violence from their early ages.
This significantly raises their risk of mental instability. Moreover, this public nature of their living conditions worsens their already dire situation and raises their vulnerability to mental breakdowns. These sustained deplorable living conditions also expose them to both physical and emotional traumatic experiences leading to long-term mental disorders. Unaccompanied children are also more vulnerable to physical and sexual victimization that may affect them into adulthood. Eventually homeless children often suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder due to the living conditions they are exposed to (Swick, 2010).
The link between family residential stability and educational success of children significantly raises the concern about the welfare of homeless. The affected children have certainly proved that homelessness contributes greatly to poor educational performance. Therefore, homeless children are more likely to undergo grade retention than their sheltered colleagues are. As Aratani (2009) reports, previously homeless children attend 4.2 schools on average from kindergarten compared with 3.1 schools for sheltered children. He further asserts that absenteeism and school mobility contribute greatly to school performance. While homeless children occasionally miss school, their sheltered counterparts are always present therefore increasing their chances of passing their examinations.
He further argues that across all age levels homelessness impacts greatly on academic performance with homeless children lagging in their reading and writing skills compared with their sheltered peers. Although homeless children merit a special evaluation criterion, the education system is unfair benefiting only the sheltered kids. Consequently, homeless children rarely complete high school spelling doom in their future endeavors.
Aratani (2009), agrees that homeless children usually engage in delinquent survival strategies on the streets thereby endangering their lives from an early age. However, several factors can be attributed to these thought provoking survival instincts. Firstly, children on the streets have limited legal means to support themselves to guarantee their survival. Moreover, children with a previous history of runaway experiences are automatically engaged in delinquent survival strategies. These include peddling drugs, shoplifting, burglary, violent robbery and prostitution.
Therefore, runaway children are occasionally arrested by law enforcement agencies resulting in long jail terms that wipe away most of their useful life period. These homeless children usually start as juveniles and transform into hard-core criminals as they enter into adulthood. A Canadian research study indicated that the longer unaccompanied children encounter homelessness, the greater the probability of them committing criminal activities. Furthermore, inadequate monetary assistance from the government also raises the probability of homeless children and youth engaging in violent crime (Aratani, 2009).
The challenges posed by homeless children in America pose a widespread problem that needs to be handled by all concerned authorities. Some measures that could be adopted to tackle the issue include increasing housing subsidies to facilitate permanent homes for children coming from homeless families.
Also by raising school and community-based healthcare services, a huge segment of the homeless children will benefit. Such measures must also encompass assessing and screening all genuine homeless children. A trauma focused trauma approach to handling mental development of homeless children is also crucial in alleviating the high rate of mental torture amongst these children (Hicks, Burnside & Peters, 2003). Moreover, these programs must seek to better identify and serve all deserving children in the society without discrimination. The federal government is therefore obligated to raise funding for both transitional and independent programs targeting homeless children. This will facilitate the provision of adequate food in major outreach shelters and temporary housing for homeless children. In addition, more funding should be directed towards providing education to lower the prevailing high school dropout rate amongst this lot. Vocational training on the other hand would empower homeless children to attain economic independence. Finally, only a paradigm shift in the approach to aid the homeless children will help the society get rid of this menace (Hicks, Burnside & Peters, 2003).
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