Objectives: Few studies have estimated the extent of specific emotional, behavioral, and academic problems among sheltered homeless children. The objectives of this study were to describe such problems, identify those children with the problems, and evaluate the relationship between child problems and use of physical and mental health services.
Methods: From February through May 1991, 169 school-age children and their parents living in 18 emergency homeless family shelters in Los Angeles County were interviewed. To evaluate the answers, interviewers used standardized measures of depression, behavioral problems, receptive vocabulary, and reading.
Results: The vast majority (78%) of homeless children suffered from either depression, a behavioral problem, or severe academic delay. Among children having a problem, only one third of the parents were aware of any problem, and few of those children (15%) had ever received mental health care or special education.
Conclusions: Almost all school-age sheltered homeless children in Los Angeles County have symptoms of depression, a behavioral problem, or academic delay severe enough to merit a clinical evaluation, yet few receive specific care. Programs targeted at sheltered homeless school-age children are needed to close this gap.