Thursday, March 28, 2013

What homelessness does to the health of a child

Homeless children have more physical problems than children with a home.

Studies show that inadequate diets, poor access to health care, poor living conditions, and stress cause homeless children to have more health issues.

An inadequate diet causes it to be six times more likely that the growth of homeless children will be stunted  and seven times more likely that they will have iron deficiencies.

Half of homeless children experience two or more illnesses per month. They are twice as likely to have a respiratory infection as a child in a home. Frequent illnesses contribute to extreme absenteeism in school, which in turn leads to poor academic performance.

Children who have stressful childhood experiences also have major health problems in their adult life. They are 2 ½ times as likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, twice as likely to have heart disease, and twice as likely to have hepatitis as an adult.

One of our goals is to alleviate the impact of homelessness for children. We provide mental wellness therapy to help our children deal with the trauma and stress they have experienced in their lives.

Another way we help is by diverting the parents from using an ER as the primary form of medical care. So we hold a monthly wellness clinic for the children of the homeless families we serve.

Our volunteer pediatrician and his staff see firsthand a microcosm of the physical problems caused by homelessness. He shared several anecdotes about the kids he has seen at the clinic recently.

The older children in a family from out of state all had asthma, but none had inhalers. They were all having symptoms, but had no regular doctor. Because they came into our clinic, we were able to get them prescriptions for their inhalers.  

A couple of other examples of diversions from the ER:
  • A child who came in turned out to have a fever. 
  • Another child put a bead in his ear. Mom had no idea and the child wasn’t about to tell her. Our doctor could see it, but the little boy said he didn't put anything in there. The doctor not only prevented the ER visit, he prevented complications from an undetected foreign body. 
We provide the parents with samples of over the counter medicine. Plus, because of our partnership with Reach Out and Read, every child gets to pick out a book when the appointment is over.

What we do may be on a small scale, but it can be a big help to a homeless family. It isn't easy to haul a sick kid on a bus to go wait in an ER. Plus, a diversion from the ER cuts the hospital costs not covered by Medicaid coverage for homeless children.