Living in temporary housing can put a baby’s development at risk
(Photography by Tom Hull. Posed by models.)
Babies are some of the most hidden and most vulnerable victims of the housing crisis. Our new estimates suggest that in England around 15,700 0-2 year olds live in families who are classed as statutorily homeless, and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Pregnancy and babyhood provide the foundation for all future learning, behaviour and health. In the first two years of life, 700 new neural connections form in the brain every second, faster than at any other life stage. For a healthy and safe start in life, babies need four key ingredients: a healthy pregnancy; healthy early relationships with their parents or caregivers; effective care and support for those caregivers, many of whom face complex problems in their own lives; and a safe and stimulating environment. Homelessness can put all this at risk.
Homelessness can impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of pregnant women because of the stresses caused by housing instability, and because it is harder to adopt a healthy lifestyle when you are homeless. The capacity of parents to have a healthy relationship with their baby, through providing sensitive, responsive and consistent emotional care, can also be affected by homelessness. This is because many adults in homeless families experience poor mental health, which can make providing sensitive care very difficult.
In addition, homelessness can mean that families don’t get the support from others that they need. Frequent moves can mean they might not know where important services such as maternity services or children’s centres are or how to access them, and services might not know that a new family has moved into their area. Families can also be housed away from their family and friends. Lastly, living in temporary housing can put at risk a baby’s physical development because they need a safe, clean and appropriate space in which to live, grow and learn.
These babies can’t speak out, but we can. We are calling on the Government to ensure that every family is supported and able to live in a stable, safe and suitable home to give their babies the best start in life.
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