Impact on Children and Youth
“More families experience homelessness in the United States than in any other industrialized nation,” the Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth reports. “One in 30 American children experience homelessness annually; 51% are under age five.”
Domestic violence and family homelessness impact the entire family. We offer services geared directly towards meeting the unique needs of children experiencing family violence and homelessness. From direct intervention to prevention and awareness, we address the family as a whole.
Doorways’ child-focused services include physical, emotional and social support to help children heal from the traumatic effects of homelessness and domestic violence. Breaking the inter-generational cycle of homelessness and domestic violence is critical. Every child deserves to live and grow in a safe, secure environment.
Impact of Homelessness on Children
When we think about people who are experiencing homelessness, we usually think about adults. Sadly, millions of children experience homelessness every year. These children sleep in cars, shelters and abandoned buildings. Their families relocate constantly, which results in the children being pulled out of school and away from friends. Homelessness impacts children in nearly every way:
- Homelessness is traumatic for children because they often experience frequent moves, family split-ups, and living in crowded places before using homeless shelters. (National Center on Family Homelessness)
- Homeless children are sick at twice the rate of other children. They suffer twice as many ear infections, have four times the rate of asthma, and have five times more diarrhea and stomach problems. (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)
- Homelessness and hunger are closely intertwined. Homeless children are twice as likely to experience hunger as their non-homeless peers. Hunger has negative effects on the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of children. (American Psychological Association)
- A quarter of homeless children have witnessed violence and 22% have been separated from their families. Exposure to violence can cause a number of psychosocial difficulties for children both emotionally (depression, anxiety, withdrawal) and behaviorally (aggression, acting out). (American Psychological Association)
- Ten percent to 26% of homeless preschoolers have mental health problems requiring clinical evaluation. This increases to 24% to 40% among homeless school-age children—two to four times higher than low-income children aged 6 to 11 years. (The Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth)
- By the time homeless children are eight years old, one in three has a major mental disorder. (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)
- They suffer from emotional or behavioral problems that interfere with learning at almost three times the rate of other children. (Family Housing Fund)
- Approximately 87% of school-age homeless children and youth are enrolled in school, although only about 77% attend school regularly. Some schools don’t allow homeless children to register without school and medical records or without a home address. (U.S. Department of Education; National Center on Family Homelessness)
- Homeless children lack stability in their lives with 97% having moved at least once on an annual basis, which leads to disruptions in schooling and negatively impacts academic achievement. (American Psychological Association)
- Homeless children who are able to attend school have more problems learning in school:
- Compared with other children, homeless children are
- Four times as likely to have developmental delays
- Twice as likely to have learning disabilities
- Twice as likely to repeat a grade, most often due to frequent absences and moves to new schools (Buckner, J.C., Bassuk, E.L., Weinreb, L.F., and Brooks, M.G.)
- Compared with other children, homeless children are
Learn how Doorways’ Children’s Services help children impacted by homelessness.
Impact of Domestic Violence on Children
Children who live in a home where abuse occurs are always affected by it. Research indicates that abuse in a family may be the single most important risk factor for child maltreatment. Children don’t need to see the abuse to be affected by it. It is obvious that children who are abused suffer a great deal; however, children who witness abuse are similarly affected. Children also see the consequences of the abuse after it has occurred. They may observe bruises, torn clothes, broken objects, splintered furniture, holes punched in walls, swollen faces and puffy eyes. They perceive the tension and fear of the abuser and do not feel safe.
- 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. (NCADV)
- Children are particularly vulnerable as both victims of and witnesses to domestic violence, sexual abuse and assault. In order to break the cycle of violence, we must intervene and provide services. (NNEDV)
- The rate of child abuse or serious neglect in a home where domestic violence is prevalent is 1,500% higher than the national average.
- Children impacted by domestic violence stand a greater chance of experiencing neglect, and more than half are physically abused themselves.
Directly or indirectly witnessing the abuse can significantly inhibit children’s physical, cognitive, psychological and social development. Moreover, children are often caught in the crossfire. Youth frequently believe that they have somehow caused the violence, that if they were good enough, it would not have happened or that they could have stopped or prevented the abuse.
Common effects of domestic violence on children
Physical Abuse and Neglect: In addition to an increased likelihood of child abuse and neglect, children may be hurt while trying to protect their mother or they may get caught in the crossfire.
Physical Ailments: Children may suffer from stress-related physical ailments such as headaches, rashes, ulcers and autoimmune disorders.
Aggression & Difficulty Interacting with Peers: Some children mimic the aggression and violence they have experienced at home. Other children may become socially withdrawn as a means of keeping themselves safe.
Common Behaviors: Children may suffer from a loss of appetite, nightmares, stranger anxiety, temper tantrums and bed wetting. Often these children develop learning delays and speech or hearing problems.
Common characteristics of children from violent families
The following are common characteristics and behaviors to which children from violent families are prone. Naturally, not all such children have these characteristics, and many children manage to escape violence as fairly intact individuals. Also, many of these characteristics may be found in children from homes where there is no physical violence. However, there are certain patterns that strongly indicate experiencing or witnessing violence.
- Withdrawn/apathetic behavior, childhood depression, unsocial, passive, feelings of powerlessness, moody, overly controlled, poor self-concept
- Aggressive/violent behavior: anger, open rage, low frustration tolerance, poorly socialized, difficult to control, low self-esteem
- Shame and humiliation in belonging to a deviant family
- Feelings of guilt and responsibility for family violence
- Stigma: feelings of being different
- Physical fears
- Fear of intimacy: distrustful, armored, vigilant
- Distrustful of males (males and females)
- Identification with aggressor (mostly males)
- Identification with victim (mostly females)
- Confused values: physical force is viewed as a legitimate means of control (particularly control of women by men); “Might is right.” “Nice guys finish last.”
- Conflicting and ambivalent feelings and loyalties toward parents: feelings of love/hate for both parents; anger, pity and contempt for the person abused; anger, fear and respect for abusive person
- Parental child: precocious mothering, role reversal
- Physical problems and complaints
- Learning problems
- Sexual behavior seen as an expression of power and anger rather than of love and tenderness
Learn how Doorways’ Children’s Services help children impacted by domestic violence.
Prevention and Awareness
Teen Dating Violence: This issue is on the rise and impacts as many teens as adults. It’s been estimated that almost two-thirds of tweens (ages 11-14) say they know friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc.) by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Our goal is to raise awareness about this issue by helping teens recognize and call out unhealthy behaviors. Read more about teen dating violence.