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Homeless, Poor Children Found To Face Similar Woes

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The study, conducted by researchers from the Bank Street College of Education, examined the health and social status of 160 children ages 3 through 5 in New York City and their families.

At the time of the study, 84 of the families were homeless and lived in emergency shelters, and 76 lived in an apartment, either theirs or someone else's, and were receiving public assistance.

The researchers found virtually no difference in the performance levels of both groups of children on a developmental screening test--more than half of all the children scored at below-average levels. However, those who had been exposed to early-childH(hood programs for as little as three months consistently performed better than did children who had not attended Head Start or a publicly funded day-care program.

When asked about their child's behavior, mothers of 3-year-olds from both categories gave nearly identical answers. But 4- and 5-year-olds who lived in emergency shelters exhibited significantly more emotional problems, such as anxiety or depression, than children with homes who were the same age. One-third of the homeless children in this age range had serious enough behavioral and emotional problems to suggest the need for mental-health intervention, the report said.

Children who were homeless were much more likely than the other children to suffer from diarrhea and upper-respiratory infections or to need (hospitalization, the study found. But both groups of children were less healthy, on the whole, than the general population, the study said.

One in five children in the study had asthma, one in four was anemic, and one in seven had a low birthH weight.

"Rather than being treated as a category in and of itself, homelessness needs to be seen primarily as one of the manifestations of conditions of chronic poverty," the report concludes.

To help these children and their families, the report recommends expanding publicly funded day-care and Head Start programs, targeting more emergency shelters for families with children, and calls for more mental-health and social-service programs for all poor people.--ef

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