The psychological impact of childhood homelessness—a literature review


In August 2019, 3848 children in Ireland were faced with emergency homelessness [1]. In recent years, lack of affordable housing, unemployment and shortage of rental properties have been the primary driving factors for the potentially devastating impact of familial homelessness in our society [1]. Our aim was to evaluate current knowledge on the psychological impact of homelessness in children. Using the PRISMA model, we performed a review of the currently available literature on the psychological impact of homelessness on children. This concept was explored under two different categories—‘transgenerational’ and ‘new-onset homelessness’. Hidden homelessness was also explored. Our literature review revealed several psychological morbidities which were unique to children. This includes developmental and learning delays, behavioural difficulties and increased levels of anxiety and depression [66, 77, 40, 81, 42]. This has been demonstrated by poorer performance in school testing and increased levels of aggression. Anxiety in children within this cohort has been shown to peak at time of dispersion from their stable home environment [67]. Our study highlights violence, aggression and poor academic learning outcomes to be just some of the key findings in our review of homelessness in childhood, worldwide. Unfortunately, there has been minimum research to date on paediatric homelessness within the context of the Irish population. We anticipate this review to be the first chapter in a multipart series investigation to evaluate the psychological morbidity of paediatric homelessness within the Irish Society.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    About Homelessness - Focus Ireland (2019) Focus Ireland.

  2. 2.

    Ahmadkhaniha HR, Shariat SV, Torkaman-nejad S, Hoseini Modghadam MM (2007) The frequency of sexual abuse and depression in a sample of street children of one of deprived districts of Tehran. J Child Sex Abus 16(4):23–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Anooshian L (2005) Violence and aggression in the lives of homeless children: a review. Aggress Violent Behav 10(2):129–152

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Ayerst SL (1999) Depression and stress in street youth. Adolescence 34(135):567–575

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Barnes AJ, Gilbertson J, Chatterjee D (2018) Emotional health among youth experiencing family homelessness. Pediatrics 141(4):e20171767.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Barnes AJ, Lafavor TL, Cutuli JJ, Zhang L, Oberg CN, Masten AS (2017) Health and self-regulation among school-age children experiencing family homelessness. Children (Basel) 4(8):E70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Bashir Z, Dasti R (2015) Poly-victimization and mental health of street children in Lahore city. J Ment Health 24(5):305–312.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Bassuk EL, Richard MK, Tsertsvadze A (2014) The prevalence of mental illness in homeless children: a systematic review and meta-analaysis. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 54(2):86–96.e2.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Bassuk EL, Rubin L, Lauriat A (1984) Is homelessness a mental health problem? Am J Psychiatry 141(12):1546–1550

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Berman H, Mulcahy GA, Forchuk C, Edmunds KA, Haldenby A, Lopez R (2009) Uprooted and displaced: a critical narrative study of homeless, aboriginal, and newcomer girls in Canada. Issues Ment Health Nurse 30(7):418–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Blodgett C, Lanigan JD (2018) The association between adverse childhood experience (ACE) and school success in elementary school children. Sch Psychol Q 33(1):137–146.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Bromley B, Famtuzzo J, Perlman S, Zager ML (2015) The unique relations between early homelessness and educational well-being: an empirical test of the continuum of risk hypothesis. Child Youth Serv Rev 48:31–37

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Buckner JC, Bassuk EL, Weinreb LF, Brooks MG (1999) Homelessness and its relation to the mental health and behaviour of low-income school-age children. Dev Psychol 35(1):246–257

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Buckner JC, Bassuk EL, Weinreb LF (2001) Predictors of academic achievement among homeless and low income housed children. J Sch Psychol 39(45–69):0022–4405/01

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Chaulagain A, Sunwar A, Watts S, Guerrero APS, Skokauskas N (2019) Child and adolescent mental health problems in Nepal: a scoping review. Int J Ment Health Syst 13:53. Review

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Childress S, Reitzel LR, Maria DS, Kendzor DE, Moisiuc A, Businelle MS (2015) Mental illness and substance use problems in relation to homelessness onset. Am J Health Behav 39(4):549–555.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Culbreth R, Swahn MH, Ndetei D, Ametewee L, Kasirye R (2018) Suicidal ideation among youth living in the slums of Kamala, Uganda. Int J Environ Res Public Health 15(2):E298.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Cumber SN, Tsoka-Gwengweni JM (2016) Characteristics of street children in Cameroon: a situational analysis of demographic socio-economic and behavioural profiles and challenges. Afr J Prim Health Care Fam Med 8(1):e1–e9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Cutuli JJ, Ahumada SM, Herbers JE, Lafavor TL, Masten AS, Oberg CN (2017) Adversity and children experiencing family homelessness: implications for health. J Children Poverty 23:41–55.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Cuteli JJ, Desjardins CD, Herbers JE, Long JD, Heistad D, Chan CK, Hinz E, Masten AS (2013) Academic achievement trajectories of homeless and highly mobile students: resilience in the context of chronic and acute risk. Child Dev 84(3):841–857.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Cutuli JJ, Herbers JE, Rinaldi M, Masten AS, Oberg CN (2010) Asthma and behavior in homeless 4- to 7-year-olds. Pediatrics 125(1):145–151. Epub 2009 Dec 7

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Dang MT (2014) Social connectedness and self-esteem: predictors of resilience in mental health among maltreated homeless youth. Issues Ment Health Nurs 35(3):212–219.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Darbeda S, Falissard B, Orri M, Barry C, Melchior M, Chauvin P, Vandentorren S (2018) Adaptive behavior of sheltered homeless children in the French ENFAMS survey. Am J Public Health 108(4):503–510.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    DiBiase R, Waddell S (1995) Some effects of homelessness on the psychological functioning of preschoolers. J Abnorm Child Psychol 23(6):783–792

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Dwomoh I, Dinolfo EA (2018) Effects of homelessness on children. Pediatr Rev 39(10):530–532.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Edidin JP, Ganim Z, Hunter SJ, Karnik NS (2012) The mental and physical health of homeless youth: a literature review. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 43(3):354–375. Review

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Emblazon L, Lee H, Gunn J, Ayuku D, Braitstein P (2016) Causes of child and youth homelessness in developed and developing countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr 170(5):435–444. Review

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Feldmann J, Middleman AB (2003) Homeless adolescents: common clinical concerns. Semi Pediatr Infect Dis 14(1):6–11

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Gerwitz O’Brien JR, Edinburg LD, Barnes AJ, McRee AL (2020) Mental health outcomes among homeless runaway, and stably housed youth. Pediatrics 145(4):e20192674.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Grant R, Gracy D, Goldsmith G, Shapiro A, Redlener IE (2013) Twenty-five years of child and family homelessness: where are we now? Am J Public Health 103(Suppl 2):e1–e10.

  31. 31.

    Gultekin LE, Brush BL, Ginier E, Cordom A, Dowdell EB (2020) Health risks and outcomes of homelessness in school-age children and youth: a scoping review of the literature. J Sch Nurs 36(1):10–18.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Herbers JE, Cutuli JJ, Monn AR, Narayan AJ, Masten AS (2014) Trauma, adversity, and parent-child relationships among young children experiencing homelessness. J Abnorm Child Psychol 42(7):1167–1174

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Herbers JE, Cutuli JJ, Supkoff LM, Narayan AJ, Masten AS (2014) Parenting and coregulation: adaptive systems for competence in children experiencing homelessness. Am J Orthop 84(4):420–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Hodgson KJ, Shelton KH, van den Bree MB (2015) Psychopathology among young homeless people: longitudinal mental health outcomes for different subgroups. Br J Clin Psychol 54(3):307–325.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Howard KS, Cartwright S, Barajas RG (2009) Examining the impact of parental risk on family functioning among homeless and housed families. Am J Orthopsychiatry 79(3):326–335.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Hyun MS, Chung HI, Lee YJ (2005) The effect of cognitive-behavioral group therapy on the self-esteem, depression, and self-efficacy of runaway adolescents in a shelter in South Korea. Appl Nurs Res 18(3):160–166

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Jetelina KK, Reingle Gonzalez JM, Cuccaro PM et al (2016) The association between familial homelessness, aggression, and victimization among children. J Adolesc Health 59(6):688–695

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Kakchapati S, Shrestha B, Li DY, Rajbhandari R, Poudel T (2018) Drug use, injecting behaviors, and survival sex among street children and youths in Kathmandu valley, Nepal. Int J STD AIDS 29(6):588–597.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Kamieniecki GW (2001) Prevalence of psychological distress and psychiatric disorders among homeless youth in Australia: a comparative review. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 35(3):352–358

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Karin K, Tischler V, Gregory P, Vostanis P (2006) Homeless children and parents: short-term mental health outcome. Int J Soc Psychiatry 52(5):447–458

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Keogh C, O’Brien KK, Hoban A, O’Carroll A, Fahey T (2015) Health and use of health services of people who are homeless and at risk of homelessness who receive free primary health care in Dublin. BMC Health Serv Res 15:58.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Kerfoot M, Koshyl V, Roganov O, Mikhailichenko K, Gorbova I, Pottage D (2007) The health and well-being of neglected, abused and exploited children: the Kyiv street children project. Child Abuse Negl 31(1):27–37

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Kessler KMA, Chatterjee D, Schläfer R, Barnes AJ (2018) Adolescent connectedness with parents promotes resilience among homeless youth. Children (Basel) 5(7):E96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Labella MH, Narayan AJ, McCormick CM, Desjardins CD, Masten AS (2019) Risk and adversity, parenting quality, and children’s social-emotional adjustment in families experiencing homelessness. Child Dev 90(1):227–244.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Lancet (2017) Homeless people—their health and their children’s health. Lancet Public Health 2(12):e529.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Marcal KE (2016) A theory of mental health and optimal service delivery for homeless children. Child Adolesc Soc Work J 34(4):349–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Masten AS, Cutuli JJ, Herbers JE, Obradović J, Wenzel AJ (2014) Academic risk and resilience in the context of homelessness. Child Dev Perspect 8(4):201–206.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Masten AS, Miliotis D, Graham-Bermann SA, Ramirez M, Neemann J (1993) Children in homeless families: risks to mental health and development. J Consult Clin Psychol 61(2):335–343

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Menke EM (1998) The mental health of homeless school-49 age children. J Child Adolesc Psychiatr Nurs 11(3):87–98

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Medlow S, Klineberg E, Steinbeck K (2014) The health diagnoses of homeless adolescents: a systematic review of the literature. J Adolesc 37(5):531–542.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Moore H, Astor RA, Benbenishty R (2020) Role of school-climate in school-based violence among homeless and non homeless students: individual-and school-level analysis. Child Abuse Negl 102:104378.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Myburgh C, Moola A, Poggenpoel M (2015) The lived experiences of children living on the streets of Hillbrow. Curationis 38(1).

  53. 53.

    Nilsson SF, Laursen TM, Hjorthøj C, Thorup A, Nordentoft M (2017) Risk of psychiatric disorders in offspring of parents with a history of homelessness during childhood and adolescence in Denmark: a nationwide, register-based, cohort study. Lancet Public Health 2(12):e541–e550.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Obradović J (2010) Effortful control and adaptive functioning of homeless children: variable-focused and person-focused analyses. J Appl Dev Psychol 31:109–117.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Obradović J, Long JD, Cutuli JJ, Chan CK, Hinz E, Heistad D, Masten AS (2009) Academic achievement of homeless and highly mobile children in an urban school district: longitudinal evidence on risk, growth, and resilience. Dev Psychopathol 21:493–518

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Ojha SP, Ma J, Chapagain M, Tulachan P (2013) Emotional and behavioural problems among sheltered homeless children. JNMA J Nepal Med 52(191):457–461

    Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Oppong Asante K, Meyer-Weitz A (2017) Prevalence and predictors of suicidal ideations and attempts among homeless children and adolescents in Ghana. J Child Adolesc Ment Health 29(1):27–37.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Park JM, Fertig AR, Allison PD (2011) Physical and mental health, cognitive development, and health care use by housing status of low-income young children in 20 American cities: a prospective cohort study. Am J Public Health 101(Suppl 1):S255–S261.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Parks RW, Stevens RK, Spence SA (2007) A systematic review of cognition in homeless children and adolescents. J R Soc Med 100(1):46–50

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Perlman S, Cowan B, Gewirtz A, Haskett M, Stokes L. (2012). Promoting positive parenting in the context of homelessness

  61. 61.

    Pluck G, Banda-Cruz DR, Andrade-Guimaraes MV, Trueba AF (2018) Socioeconomic deprivation and the development of neuropsychological functions: a study with “street children” in Ecuador. Child Neuropsychol 24(4):510–523.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Ramakrishnan JL, Masten AS (2020) Mastery motivation and school readiness among young children experiencing homelessness. Am J Orthop 90(2):223–235.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Radcliffe E, Crouch E, Strompolis M, Srivastav A (2019) Homelessness in childhood and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), Matern Child Health J. 23(6):811–820.

  64. 64.

    RCPI (2019) The impact of homelessness and inadequate housing on children’s health. Royal College of Physicians Ireland. Position Paper

  65. 65.

    Roze M, Bandentorren S, Vuillermoz C, Chauvin P, Melchior M (2016) Emotional and behavioral difficulties in children growing up homeless in Paris. Results of the ENFAMS survey. Eur Psychiatry 38:51–60.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Rubin DH, Ericsson CJ, San Agustin M, Cleary SD, Allen JK, Cohen P (1996) Cognitive and academic functioning of homeless children compared with housed children. Pediatrics 97(3):289–294

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    San Agustin M, Cohen P, Rubin D, Cleary SD, Erickson CJ, Allen JK (1999) The Montefiore community children's project: a controlled study of cognitive and emotional problems of homeless mothers and children. J Urban Health 76(1):39–50

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Sandel M, Sheward R, Ettinger de Cuba S, Coleman S, Heeran T, Black MM, Casey PH, Chilton M, Cook J, Cutts DB, Rose-Jacobs R, Frank DA (2018) Timing and duration of pre- and postnatal homelessness and the health of young children. Pediatrics 142(4):e20174254.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Schickedanz A, Chung PJ (2018) Addressing family homelessness in pediatrics: progress and possibility. Pediatrics 142(4):e20182328.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Schweitzer RD, Hier SJ (1993) Psychological maladjustment among homeless adolescents. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 27(2):275–280

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Shinn M, Samuels J, Fischer SN, Thompkins A, Fowler PJ (2015) Longitudinal impact of family critical time intervention on children in high-risk families experiencing homelessness: a randomized trial. Am J Community Psychol 56(3-4):205–216.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Smith T, Hawke L, Chaim G, Henderson J (2017) Housing instability and concurrent substance use and mental health concerns: an examination of Canadian youth. J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 26(3):214–223

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  73. 73.

    Tyler KA, Schmitz RM (2018) Child abuse, mental health and sleeping arrangements among homeless youth: links to physical and sexual street victimization. Child Youth Serv Rev 95:327–333.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Tyler KA, Ray CM (2019) A latent class analysis of lifetime victimization among homeless youth. J Interpers Violence 6:886260519834090.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    Tyler KA, Schmitz RM, Ray CM (2018) Role of social environmental protective factors on anxiety and depressive symptoms among Midwestern homeless youth. J Res Adolesc 28(1):199–210.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  76. 76.

    Vandentorren S, Le Méer E, Oppenchaim N, Arnaud A, Jangal C, Caum C, Vuillermoz C, Martin-Fernandez J, Lioret S, Roze M, Le Strat Y, Guyavarch E (2016) Characteristics and health of homeless families: the ENFAMS survey in the Paris region, France 2013. Eur J Public Health 26(1):71–76.

  77. 77.

    Vostanis P, Grattan E, Cumella S (1998) Mental health problems of homeless children and families: longitudinal study. Br Med J 316(7135):899–902

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Watters C, O’Callaghan P (2016) Mental health and psychosocial interventions for children and adolescents in street situations in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review. Child Abuse Negl 60:18–26. Review

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    Weinreb L, Fehler C, Perloff J, Scott R, Hosmer D, Sagor L, Gundersen C (2002) Hunger: its impact on children’s health and mental health. Pediatrics 110(4):e41

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Woan J, Lin J, Auerswald C (2013) The health status of street children and youth in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review of the literature. J Adolesc Health 53(3):314–321.e12. Review

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  81. 81.

    Yu M, North CS, Lavesser PD, Osborne VA, Spitznagel EL (2008) A comparison study of psychiatric and behavior disorders and cognitive ability among homeless and housed children. Community Meant Health J 44(1):1–10

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Zima BT, Bussing R, Bystritsky M, Widawski MH, Belin TR, Benjamin B (1999) (1999). Psychosocial stressors among sheltered homeless children: relationship to behaviour problems and depressive symptoms. Am J Orthop 69(1):127–133

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  83. 83.

    Zima BT, Wells KB, Benjamin B, Duan N (1996) Mental health problems among homeless mothers: relationship to service use and child mental health problems. Arch Gen Psychiatry 53(4):332–338

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  84. 84.

    Zima BT, Wells KB, Freeman HE (1994) Emotional and behavioral problems and severe academic delays among sheltered homeless children in Los Angeles County. Am J Public Health 84(2):260–264

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Saskia D’Sa.

Ethics declarations

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

D’Sa, S., Foley, D., Hannon, J. et al. The psychological impact of childhood homelessness—a literature review. Ir J Med Sci 190, 411–417 (2021).

Download citation


  • Childhood homelessness
  • Familial homelessness
  • Homeless in Ireland
  • Psychological impact