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Eviction leads to harmful effects in young children

In a recent study, eviction was associated with poor health and development outcomes in infants and toddlers.

Eviction is associated with harmful effects for young children, according to a recent study.

Eviction or involuntary displacement occurs in almost 2 million households per year, with risk of eviction increasing for every child within a family. Lack of affordable housing, gentrification, and racial and ethnic discrimination are all factors which lead to eviction, causing health concerns in both children and adults. 

Poor child and adult physical health, maternal depression, and increased material hardships have been proven in adults and children after eviction. However, there is little evidence on the effects of eviction among infants and toddlers. 

Families are at an increased risk of living in poor quality and overcrowded housing or being homeless after eviction, leading to negative outcomes in adolescents such as adolescent depression, earlier illicit drug use, and teenage pregnancy. Links to poor birth outcomes are also associated with eviction, and infant birth can increase the financial burdens which come from eviction.

Current studies suggest formal actions to reduce eviction, but informal evictions often have similarly devastating effects on families. To understand the effects of both formal and informal evictions on infants and toddlers, researchers conducted household-level surveys with caregivers and gathered medical records from pediatric emergency departments and primary care clinics between February 2011 and December 2019.

The final sample of participants was 26,441 consisting of caregivers from unique renter households and with nonmissing eviction history data who had completed the survey. Data on birth mother’s race, social demographic, and ethnicity were self-identified, while child age, sex, weight, and length and height on the visit date were obtained from medical records. Household income was also self-reported.

Caregivers were provided a definition for eviction and asked to mention eviction history within 5 years prior. This included both formal and informal evictions, which were outlined in the survey. They were then divided into 3 groups: no eviction, eviction history–formal, and eviction history–informal.

Health outcomes, housing-related hardships, and household hardships were assessed. Health outcomes included child and caregiver health, child hospitalizations, developmental risk, hospital admission from the emergency department (ED), child anthropometrics, and maternal depressive symptoms. 

Housing-related hardships included behind on rent in the previous year, 2 or more moves in the previous year, homelessness in the child’s lifetime, and current homelessness. Household hardships included food insecurity, energy insecurity, health care hardship, and childcare constraints.

Almost 4% of caregivers reported eviction in the previous 5 years. Of these, 57% were formal and 43% informal. Those evicted were more often Black, non-Hispanic, United States–born, older, and had pursued education beyond high school. Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston saw the greatest proportion of evicted caregivers.

Children with no history of eviction saw lower rates of public insurance and higher rates of breastfeeding history than those in the formal and informal eviction groups. The formal and informal eviction groups also saw a greater proportion of subsidized housing rescinded.

Rates of fair or poor child and caregiver health, child developmental risk, and maternal depressive symptoms were all greater in the formal and informal eviction groups, but there were no differences between child weight or health care utilization rates. All household hardships rates were higher in both eviction groups.

Few factors changed based on formal versus informal eviction. Admission from ED was greater among the formal group, while household food insecurity was greater among the informal group.

Based on data of child health and developmental risk, eviction was associated with poor health and development for infants and toddlers. Researchers stressed the importance for policymakers, community organizations, and health professionals to design evidence-based policy solutions which can lower eviction rates and help families meet basic needs.

Reference

Cutts DB, Ettinger de Cuba S, Bovell-Ammon A, Wellington C, Coleman SM, Frank DA. Eviction and household health and hardships in families with very young children. Pediatrics. 2022. doi:10.1542/peds.2022-056692