Objective: To establish the mental health needs of homeless children and families before and after rehousing.
Design: Cross sectional, longitudinal study.
Setting: City of Birmingham.
Subjects: 58 rehoused families with 103 children aged 2-16 years and 21 comparison families of low socioeconomic status in stable housing, with 54 children.
Main outcome measures: Children's mental health problems and level of communication; mothers' mental health problems and social support one year after rehousing.
Results: Mental health problems remained significantly higher in rehoused mothers and their children than in the comparison group (mothers 26% v 5%, P = 0.04; children 39% v 11%, P = 0.0003). Homeless mothers continued to have significantly less social support at follow up. Mothers with a history of abuse and poor social integration were more likely to have children with persistent mental health problems.
Conclusions: Homeless families have a high level of complex needs that cannot be met by conventional health services and arrangements. Local strategies for rapid rehousing into permanent accommodation, effective social support and health care for parents and children, and protection from violence and intimidation should be developed and implemented.