On our travels we met Jane, a Health Visitor in South London who specialises in working with homeless families. She is also Chair of the Victoria Climbie Foundation. She explained a little more about her work for our blog.

“I work in the specialist area of homelessness and have done so for 27 years. I enjoy working in this area as I can use my skills, knowledge and expertise working within a public health framework to improve the health of children and families, both immediately and in the long term.

I am able to work within a human rights framework which is important to the families I work with who experience deprivation and prejudice, especially asylum seeking, migrant and Traveller families. I also work within a cultural framework ensuring that the services and advice are culturally appropriate. My work can be very specific and focussed as well as very creative.”

What is the impact of homelessness on families and young children?

“Families often live in dreadful conditions sharing amenities; they are often exposed to noise with a lack of space and privacy. Some temporary accommodation may be unsafe and is usually in areas of deprivation. Families are often placed away from their families and communities and are often very isolated. Homelessness also means that families, particularly adults, find it difficult to plan or have control over their lives which impacts on individual’s confidence and self-esteem. Some families are also more vulnerable due to specific issues such as; their own childhood experience, and trauma, or social isolation.

The impact on a family can be very significant, and is often long-term. I see a lot of families with severe mental health problems including depression and anxiety. Children also experience gastric, respiratory, and skin problems due to stress, poor diet, and poor living conditions. I also see challenging behaviours develop very young in children due to the stress they experience around them from a young age.

There are very high rates (around 30%) of psychiatric problems with these families too, especially depression. This can be evident in young children and will continue even when the family is rehoused.”

What can be done to create a positive change?

We need a truly multi-disciplinary approach and one that tackles health inequalities head-on. We need to build more affordable housing, we need to tackle unemployment and make it easier for people to enter the labour market and still bring up a family, we need to work on increasing the educational and developmental support for families, and we need to take down the barriers of equality.

I see that Shelter have published the numbers of children who are homeless – prior to Christmas it was 75 000+ but I saw it was now 82 000+.

I am Chair of the Victoria Climbie Foundation and we are very concerned about homeless children – the increase in numbers – the capping of the housing benefit and the impact of that. It is a safeguarding issue.

Children have a right to:

  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic  well-being
  • A decent home
  • Family life

‘Those who approach the problems of homelessness purely as a housing issue will try to solve it purely as a housing issue. This is a simple but ultimately ineffective approach… without paying equal attention to the personal/social side of the homelessness equation; it would achieve little more than moving families’ problems behind quality doors’.”
Taylor Gaubatz (2000)