Emotional and behavioral difficulties in children growing up homeless in Paris. Results of the ENFAMS survey.


PURPOSE: Children growing up in homeless families are disproportionately more likely to experience health and psychological problems. Our objective was to describe social, environmental, individual and family characteristics associated with emotional and behavioral difficulties among homeless children living in the Paris region. METHODS: Face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of homeless families were conducted by bilingual psychologists and interviewers between January and May 2013 (n=343 children ages 4-13 years). Mothers reported children’s emotional and behavioral difficulties (Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire [SDQ]), family socio-demographic characteristics, residential mobility, and parents’ and children’s physical and mental health. Children were interviewed regarding their perception of their living arrangements, friendships and school experiences. We studied children’s SDQ total score in a linear regression framework. RESULTS: Homeless children had higher SDQ total scores than children in the general population of France, (mean total score=11.3 vs 8.9, P<0,001). In multivariate analyses, children's difficulties were associated with parents' region of birth (beta=1.74 for Sub-Saharan Africa, beta=0.60 for Eastern Europe, beta=3.22 for other countries, P=0.020), residential mobility (beta=0.22, P=0.012), children's health (beta=3.49, P<0.001) and overweight (beta=2.14, P=0.007), the child's sleeping habits (beta=2.82, P=0.002), the mother's suicide risk (beta=4.13, P<0.001), the child's dislike of the family's accommodation (beta=3.59, P<0.001) and the child's experience of bullying (beta=3.21, P=0.002). CONCLUSIONS: Children growing up homeless experience high levels of psychological difficulties which can put them at risk for poor mental health and educational outcomes long-term. Access to appropriate screening and medical care for this vulnerable yet underserved group are greatly needed.