, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 437-448

The Mental Health of Children Exposed to Maternal Mental Illness and Homelessness

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Abstract

In recent years a number of reports have documented an increase in the number of homeless families in the US. Using a sample of 195 mothers who were veterans of the US armed forces we assessed the association of maternal homelessness and clinical status, with measures of children’s mental health, school enrolment and attendance. Although maternal homelessness had no significant association with children’s reported emotional problems it had a profound effect on school enrollment and attendance. Mothers’ mental health status, history of incarceration and cumulative history of trauma, as well as children’s exposure to trauma and their self-esteem were the factors most strongly associated with measures of children’s emotional problems. The study suggests that preventive interventions are needed to minimize the effects of exposure to trauma, both in the community and at home, as well as family interventions to address both the mother’s and child’s emotional and physical needs. A longitudinal study is needed to understand better the association between residential instability and children’s mental health.

Ilan Harpaz-Rotem, Ph.D., Robert A. Rosenheck, M.D. and Rani Desai, Ph.D, MPH are affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, West Haven, CT.