Homelessness in Iowa Impacts Young Children

February 16, 2016, 3:36 pm | Jenna Pattee, Malisa Rader

Girl at WindowAMES, Iowa -- According to the Administration for Children and Families, more than 7,000 Iowa children under age 6 are experiencing homelessness, says Jenna Pattee, a human sciences intern with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

In fact, Pattee said, in the United States, an individual is at the greatest risk of living in a homeless shelter during infancy.

“Early childhood homelessness is a major concern in our country as well as in the state of Iowa,” said Pattee, who is studying family life issues. “By making ourselves and others aware of the issue, hopefully we can do something to turn those statistics around.”  

The United States Department of Education defines “homeless children and youths” as people who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, young children experiencing homelessness have more developmental delays, health problems and other challenges than do children who are living in poverty but have permanent housing.

Homeless mothers often have difficulty obtaining access to childcare, Pattee said. Without safe and affordable childcare for their children, these adults cannot search for employment, attend job training, pursue educational opportunities and attend other important events essential to resolving their homelessness, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. The majority of states do not have policies to help homeless families obtain access to subsidized childcare, Pattee added.

Many parents may not realize they can obtain help with paying for childcare, Pattee continued. The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness notes that more than 900,000 families and 1.5 million children receive child care assistance each month through the Child Care Development Fund.  

Pattee noted that while some steps have been taken to combat this issue, there are still other programs that could be implemented to assist homeless children and youth.

“Homelessness can negatively impact a child’s development. Support for children and families in these circumstances can lead to healthier outcomes for children’s cognitive, social-emotional, physical and language development,” Pattee said. Research indicates that services targeted toward improving developmental outcomes have positive effects on individual and family functioning, as well as decreased costs to society.

“Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has some excellent resources to support parents of young children,” Pattee said. Register for Just in Time Parenting, a monthly e-newsletter for parents in the first five years, at http://www.jitp.extension.org/. Use the coupon code IA10JITP. Or sign up for the Science of Parenting blog at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/scienceofparenting. For other home and family questions, call AnswerLine at 1-800-262-3804, for information and resources.

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