Public Release: 

Homelessness in infancy linked to poor health outcomes for children and mothers

Boston Medical Center

BOSTON - A new study led by researchers from Children's HealthWatch, a research and policy network headquartered at Boston Medical Center (BMC), shows infants under 12 months old who experience homelessness are at-risk of poor health and development compared to their peers in housed families. These results demonstrate the importance of addressing homelessness among new families in order to help prevent negative health and development outcomes down the line.

For this study, researchers interviewed families of young children in emergency departments and primary care clinics in Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Little Rock between May 2009 and December 2015. Of the 9,980 families interviewed, three percent responded that they experienced homelessness during the first year of their infant's life. Compared to infants and mothers in housed families, infants who experienced homelessness were more likely to be in fair or poor health and have developmental delays. In addition, their mothers were more likely to report fair or poor health and depressive symptoms. Families of infants experiencing homelessness were also more likely to say they were not able to afford enough food, known as food insecurity, and that some family members were unable to afford medical care or prescription medications compared to housed families.

"We too often refer to 'resiliency' when we talk about children exposed to hardship as infants;" says Diana Cutts, MD, the study's first author, Co-Lead Principal Investigator for Children's HealthWatch, and Interim Chair of Pediatrics at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, "we should not mislead ourselves about the very real long term impacts that are seen."

According to the federal Administration for Children and Families, infancy is the period of life when a person is most likely to live in a homeless shelter. Given the negative health implications of homelessness for mothers and infants during the first year of life, the study authors recommend policies and programs that prevent homelessness. They also highlight the need for developing and funding interventions, such as partnerships between health care systems and housing and social service providers to coordinate housing and other health-related resources for homeless families with infants.

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The study is published in the journal Cityscape, a publication of the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

About Children's HealthWatch

Children's HealthWatch is a nonpartisan network of pediatricians, public health researchers, and children's health and policy experts. Our network is committed to improving children's health in America. We do that by first collecting real-time data in urban hospitals across the country on infants and toddlers from families facing economic hardship. We then analyze and share our findings with academics, legislators, and the public. Children's HealthWatch currently has pediatricians and researchers located in urban hospitals in five cities across the United States: Boston, MA; Baltimore, MD; Little Rock, AR; Minneapolis, MN; and Philadelphia, PA.

About Boston Medical Center

Boston Medical Center is a private, not-for-profit, 496-bed, academic medical center that is the primary teaching affiliate of Boston University School of Medicine. It is the largest and busiest provider of trauma and emergency services in New England. Committed to providing high-quality health care to all, the hospital offers a full spectrum of pediatric and adult care services including primary and family medicine and advanced specialty care with an emphasis on community-based care. Boston Medical Center offers specialized care for complex health problems and is a leading research institution, receiving more than $119 million in sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2015. It is the 11th largest recipient of funding in the U.S. from the National Institutes of Health among independent hospitals. In 1997, BMC founded Boston Medical Center Health Plan, Inc., now one of the top ranked Medicaid MCOs in the country, as a non-profit managed care organization. It does business in Massachusetts as BMC HealthNet Plan and as Well Sense Health Plan in New Hampshire, serving more than 315,000 people, collectively. Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine are partners in the Boston HealthNet - 13 community health centers focused on providing exceptional health care to residents of Boston. For more information, please visit http://www.bmc.org.

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