Homeless children in families are increasing in numbers across the country and have been noted to have frequent health problems. The health status of homeless children was assessed on multiple dimensions through parental report in a survey conducted with 196 homeless families in 10 shelters in Los Angeles and 194 housed poor families after March 1987 through January 1988. During the month before the survey, the homeless and housed poor children experienced high rates of illness symptoms, disability, and bed days. Homeless and housed poor children were frequently rated by their parents to be in fair or poor health (17% vs 13%, P = .14). Homeless children, however, were reported to have more behavior problems and school failure [30% vs 18%, P = .06] than housed poor children. Homeless children also had high rates of other health problems such as developmental delay (9%) and overweight (13%). The diets of homeless children were frequently imbalanced, dependent on food from "fast-food" restaurants, and characterized by repeated periods of deprivation. Family problems were more common among homeless families, especially among single-parent homeless families compared with single-parent housed families (spousal abuse, 68% vs 41%, P < .01; parental drug and alcohol abuse, 60% vs 39%, P < .01). It is concluded that homeless children have significant child behavior and developmental problems and disorders of nutrition and growth, which are associated with multiple risk factors in their environment.
- Received April 17, 1989.
- Accepted January 2, 1990.
- Copyright © 1990 by the American Academy of Pediatrics