Childhood experiences 'hold key to homelessness' says report

By agency reporter
July 8, 2008

A new generation of children risks becoming socially excluded and even homeless unless urgent action is taken to tackle poor and abusive parenting head on, a report warns today.

This stark warning comes in ‘The Seeds of Exclusion’, a new report by The Salvation Army based on in-depth interviews with nearly 450 people currently receiving help in its homeless centres across the UK.

The report found that a very high proportion of homeless people surveyed had a disruptive childhood, and suffered abuse and problematic relationships with their family and friends both now and in the past.

Nearly 30 per cent were homeless before they were 18, some on more than one occasion. Those who had poor relationships with their parents were more likely to be have been homeless as children.

Traumatic experiences and poor childhood relationships with parents are key. Poor relationships with one’s father as a child were common among homeless people charged with criminal behaviour as an adult. A poor relationship with one’s mother was linked specifically to antisocial behaviour throughout life.

‘The Seeds of Exclusion’ study also discovered that homeless people have a much higher level of severe and untreated mental health problems than has been previously documented. Two thirds (65 per cent) screened positive for two or more psychological problems such as personality disorders, a range of mental illnesses, drug and alcohol abuse.

Only one in ten (11 per cent) of those surveyed had access to mental health care.

The study by The Salvation Army found that the gap between leaving ‘controlled’ environments such as prison is not being effectively bridged. A quarter of interviewees had come almost directly from places like prison or a mental health unit.

Now The Salvation Army is now urging society and Government to look beyond today’s adult homeless person to the child whose upbringing has left them vulnerable and less able to cope in adulthood. The Salvation Army also warns there needs to be more support for those people with multiple needs which have led to social exclusion.

Commissioner John Matear, leader of The Salvation Army in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, said: "In the current economic climate, many more people may be forced to the brink of homelessness. To break this cycle we must stop assuming that good parenting just comes naturally or that people in need will find their own way to the services on offer.

"Unless we find ways of identifying families at risk and supporting them today, right where they are in their own communities, we are just storing up problems for the future."

The Salvation Army is calling for greater recognition of the potential role which third sector and faith-based organisations can play in identifying and eliminating the factors which will turn today’s children into tomorrow’s homeless people.

Commissioner John Matear added: "We need Government to recognise that they must invest in long-term policies and funding, not short-term fixes.

"A major part of that is to work with third sector groups on addressing the seeds of poor relationships and family experiences which can ultimately lead to people becoming excluded from society."

‘The Seeds of Exclusion’ report paints the clearest picture to date of the difficult backgrounds and the extent to which people in Salvation Army centres have much more complex and severe problems than has previously been recognised, many of which are not being addressed.

The study also reveals that even if services are available, they often fail to engage with many vulnerable people, who find it hard to access statutory support for problems such as mental health, leaving prison or the armed forces as well as help when struggling as a parent.

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