Objective: To report on the backgrounds and physical and emotional well-being of street children using two street shelters in Kyiv, Ukraine. This study is important because personal accounts of street children may highlight individual or family factors that are associated with vulnerability for and risk of poor mental health, and these could have serious repercussions for the future. This study also poses a challenge to research because street children are a highly elusive population that services find hard to reach.
Methods: Ninety-seven children were recruited and interviewed using a semistructured, psychosocial interview schedule; psychopathology was measured using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ).
Results: Seventy percent of street children scored for behavioral and emotional difficulties on the SDQ, and 74% scored for depression on the MFQ. Current health problems were reported by 78%, with 43% described as persistent or severe. Two thirds of the children in this sample were not homeless but had chosen life on the streets in preference to permanent residence with their families. Their "survival" history on the streets contributed to the development of three different profiles of vulnerability.
Conclusions: High rates of physical and emotional problems in a population of street children, many of whom were still connected to their families, emphasize the importance of developing different approaches for children with different vulnerabilities. This study also demonstrates the feasibility of embedding on-going field research into the service dimension of "front-line" social care agencies.