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Spotlight on homelessness

22 April 2009

Dr Katherine SheltonDr Katherine Shelton

Children who have poor relationships with their parents or who have experienced parental or caregiver neglect are more likely to experience homelessness as young adults, a new University research study has found.

In the first large-scale, population-based study a team from the University’s School of Psychology and School of Medicine’s Department of Psychological Medicine, led by Dr Katherine Shelton, tested and identified a number of key risk factors associated with homelessness in early adulthood.

The study, which examined data from the United States and included a representative sample of high schools, found that among young adults between the ages of 18-27 years, a number of risk factors in childhood were associated with episodes of homelessness.

The risk factors in childhood include poor relationships with parents, neglect, or being forced or placed out of the home. Other factors may occur later in life include economic disadvantage as well as experiences of mental illness or drug use

Dr Katherine Shelton, School of Psychology, who led the study said: "Among the young adults studied, several factors related to adversity in childhood were associated with an increased risk of homelessness.

"This study provides us with a greater understanding of the events that occur early in life that may be associated with homelessness in adulthood."

The findings provide an insight into the role of various life experiences and their relationship with homelessness in adulthood. The study suggests that efforts to reduce homelessness should be targeted at the most at risk groups and provides some important lessons for those seeking to tackle homelessness in the UK.

Dr Shelton added: "It is important that we fully understand the causes of homelessness without which we risk providing support services for homeless people that are potentially ineffective or even counterproductive. Our findings have important implications for prevention as well as intervention efforts, and re-focus attention on the importance of early experiences for well-being in adulthood.

"Closer attention should be paid to meeting the emotional and material needs of individuals identified in childhood as experiencing dysfunctional family relations. Getting this right may help reduce the burden of social care for homeless young adults in the US and other western countries"

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