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Homelessness can have a lifelong impact on children’s health. New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provide pediatricians with a plan to address the adverse health effects of housing insecurity on homeless children and their families.
The recent recession has left an estimated 1.6 million children without homes. Recognizing that children’s health and housing security are closely connected, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a policy statement that addresses health care for homeless pediatric patients and advises physician advocacy to support these children and their families.
The policy statement recommends that pediatricians identify homeless patients in their practices, research chronic conditions affecting the homeless, optimize office visits to provide comprehensive preventive care, and enroll eligible children in Medicaid. It advises physicians to be aware of the barriers that may keep patients away from the office and be flexible in office hours and payment expectations.
During visits, doctors should take the opportunity to connect homeless families to government programs and health and human services in the community, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Special Nutrition Assistance for Nutrition, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
AAP says that in addition to implementing practice-level strategies, pediatricians should become advocates for homeless children and their families. Because education can be disrupted by homelessness, pediatricians should ensure that children who cannot provide an address are able to attend schools in the community. They also should support local, state, and federal housing programs and promote foster care system reform so that families continue to have access to services as their children transition from the system at adulthood.
Homelessness can have great impact on children and their future potential. By providing health services and serving as a voice for this population, pediatricians can mitigate the potential adverse effects of homelessness on their pediatric patients.