Researchers at N.C. State University and Project CATCH
, a Wake County partnership that targets child homelessness, have found that a quarter of all homeless children in Wake County need mental health services.
Dr. Mary Haskett, a psychology professor at N.C. State and the author of the research paper, says homeless children often have been exposed to domestic or neighborhood violence, chronic poverty, inadequate healthcare and other factors that place them at risk of experiencing mental health problems.
The research drew on data from Community Action Targeting Children who are Homeless (CATCH), which works with homeless families at eleven Wake County shelters and screens the development and social-emotional functioning of children who enter the shelters. Project CATCH is supported by the Salvation Army, Wake County Smart Start and the John Rex Endowment.
Haskett and Ph.D. student Jenna Armstrong, who co-authored the paper, evaluated screening data on 328 children between two months and six years old. More than eighty of the children were found to require mental health services based on their social-emotional functioning. Research from Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty finds that ten to 14 percent of U.S. children from birth to age five experience social and emotional problems.
“This rate is certainly much, much higher than in the general population,” said Armstrong. “As a result of their exposure to those difficult life circumstances combined with living in a shelter, homeless children are at much greater risk of developmental delays, social and emotional problems and problems at school.”
A 2014 report from the National Center on Family Homelessness found that 2.5 million children in the U.S. are homeless each year. Following the results of this pilot study in Wake County, more than six hundred thousand children nationally need mental health support.
“Children in shelters are often overlooked,” Armstrong says. “They’re basically invisible. We, as a society, can’t afford to let these kids down.”