Primary Sources: Helping Pediatricians Understand Youth and Family Homelessness

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Photograph of a young woman with her baby and two health care professionals.

Meeting the Challenge: Responding to Health Care Needs of Homeless Youth” (abstract). Inger Anthony. Clinical Pediatrics, Vol. 53, No. 1, January 2014.

What it’s about: This article presents a bird’s-eye view of homeless youth and family statistics so that pediatricians can better understand and serve those populations.

Why read it: While the paper is addressed to pediatricians, certain recommendations are relevant to youth and family workers. The author also recommends that doctors collaborate with social workers in order to provide care for families whose lack of stability or strained schedules make it hard to regularly see doctors.

Biggest takeaway for family and youth workers: Author Inger Anthony claims that there is a huge gap in knowledge among pediatricians as to the effects and risks of youth and family homelessness. While the author stops short of saying so outright, youth and family workers are in a unique position to share this knowledge through collaborations and training. For example, the fact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are disproportionately represented among the homeless population is something that many homeless youth providers know firsthand and could share with providers. Anthony claims that a better understanding of the “homeless worldview” would improve services by opening doctors’ eyes to the specific health concerns and risks that face homeless youth and families.

Anthony notes six areas of concern for any doctor helping homeless families: physical health, nutrition, mental health, sexual health, substance use and victimization. She suggests that doctors share with families the Pediatric Symptom Checklist, a tool that enables parents to recognize physical and mental symptoms in their children. Social service providers could also give the checklist to families and youth they serve.

She also says that one of the main obstacles to proper homeless health care, for homeless youth and families alike, is a lack of long-term relationships with doctors. Anthony's article implies that many doctors stand to learn a lot by getting training from youth and family workers, or by engaging in monthly visits to shelters to give routine checkups to homeless youth. Such collaborations would simultaneously expand doctors’ understanding of the homeless experience and help homeless young people form long-term relationships with doctors.

Additional references: Find abstracts of other literature on health care in our digital library.

The Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PDF, 40KB) is available from the Health Resources and Services Administration's Bright Futures inititative. We recently wrote about Tulane University’s free health care drop-in center for young people. We've also written about a regular on-site health care clinic for homeless youth in Minneapolis.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.

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