Primary Sources: Tough Times for Families and Youth

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A street outreach worker speaks with homeless teens.

When times get tough, programs that serve families and youth find themselves in a difficult spot: More people need more help, but at the same time, funding for social services begins to dry up. So say a trio of recent publications addressing the effects of the economic and housing crises on vulnerable families and at-risk youth. (Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.)

"The Economic Crisis Hits Home: The Unfolding Increase in Child and Youth Homelessness" (First Focus, December 2008) reports a disturbing upswing in the number of homeless students nationwide. "About three months into the school year, 847 school districts report a caseload that is 50 percent or more of last year's homeless caseload for the entire year," the report's authors write. The increase, they say, has created myriad challenges for schools hard-pressed to provide the extra services—from transportation to warm coats for the winter months—such students need. The authors make several policy recommendations, including

  • Expanding funding for the federal McKinney-Vento Act's Education for Homeless Children and Youth program to keep homeless kids in school.
  • Bringing definitions of "homeless" among federal agencies more closely in line with each other.

"Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable Families During an Economic Crisis," (First Focus, December 2008) explores the devastating impact of poverty and economic hardship on families. The issue brief's authors provide evidence for the increased risk of child abuse during an economic crisis, including

  • Poverty: Especially when present with other risk factors (e.g., depression, substance abuse, and social isolation), poverty can increase the likelihood of abuse and neglect, the authors say.
  • Stress: The authors cite numerous studies that show the presence of stressful life events, like losing a job, parenting stress, and emotional distress can lead to physical abuse.

"America's Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness" (PDF) (National Center on Family Homelessness, March 2009) offers comprehensive state-by-state data on homeless children, showing that 1 in 50 children experience homelessness nationwide. Overall, the report ranks Connecticut highest and Texas lowest; factors ranked include the extent of child homelessness in the state, child well-being, risk of child homelessness, and policy and planning efforts. The report's authors make numerous policy recommendations related to increasing families' access to housing, health care, education, support services, food security, and supplemental income.

Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.

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