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The profound negative effects of homelessness on children are laid bare in report
Yesterday Temple Street Children’s University Hospital reported that 842 homeless children presented to their Emergency Department in 2018 - an increase of 29 per cent on 2017. 26 per cent of these homeless children were less than a year old. Their presentations were "varied and complex" but "in the majority they stem from the fact that these children are living in completely unsuitable, cramped and temporary accommodation”.
The most recently available figures on homelessness show that 3,811 children are considered homeless in Ireland in November 2018, a 50 per cent increase over two years and - even more shockingly - more than four times the 880 children that were homeless at the end of 2014.
Temple Street's report points to research showing that homelessness influences “every facet of a child’s life from conception to young adulthood” and that “the experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioural development of children”. They also point out that the impact of homelessness begins “well before a child is born” as poor nutrition during pregnancy impacts negatively on children’s future health and homeless women face many obstacles to healthy pregnancies, including a lack of prenatal care. Children born into homelessness are more likely to have low birth weights.
Homelessness also exposes infants to environmental factors that can endanger their health. Homeless children begin to demonstrate significant developmental delays after 18 months which are believed to influence later behavioural and emotional problems. Homeless preschool age children also are more likely to experience major developmental delays and to suffer from emotional problems. By the time homeless children reach school age, their homelessness affects their social, physical, and academic lives.
Homeless children stay in temporary accommodation with cramped conditions and no appropriate cooking, washing or play facilities. This results in accidents or traumas that wouldn’t normally happen if these families were housed in a family home.
Yesterday at the Mansion House a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the Dáil took place. Many of our political leaders acknowledged the failure of the State to fulfil the First Dáil’s pledges to protect children from poverty. The Democratic Programme adopted by the first Dáil promised that 'no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training’.
100 years later, we are still waiting.