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Psychosocial functioning of homeless children.

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  • 1Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Birmingham, U.K.



To investigate the psychosocial characteristics of homeless children and their parents.


Homeless families were assessed within 2 weeks of admission to seven hostels and were compared with a group of housed families matched for socioeconomic status. Measures included a semistructured interview, the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), the interview Schedule for Social Interaction, the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), the Communication domain of the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, and height and weight percentiles. The sample consisted of 113 homeless families (249 children aged 2 through 16 years) and 29 comparison families (83 children).


Homeless families primarily consisted of single mothers and an average of two children, who had become homeless because of domestic violence (56%) or violence from neighbors (29%). Homeless mothers reported high rates of previous abuse (45%) and current psychiatric morbidity (49% caseness on the GHQ) and poor social support networks compared with housed controls. Homeless children were more likely to have histories of abuse, living in care, and being on the at-risk child protection register and less likely to have attended school or a preschool/day-care center since admission to the hostel. They also had delayed communication and higher CBCL scores. Maternal GHQ scores best predicted CBCL caseness.


Homeless mothers and children have high rates of psychosocial morbidity, which are related to multiple risk factors and chronic adversities. Their complex needs should be best met by specialized and coordinated health, social, and educational services.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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