Homeless kids are coping fairly well, study shows

September 17, 1990|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore's homeless children show a surprising resilience to the stress in their lives, according to two University of Maryland professors who studied 73 homeless families over the past year.

The study's initial data indicates that a majority of the pre-school children in city shelters for the homeless had significantly more behavioral problems than the average child tested nationally.

The more significant finding, however, was how many of the homeless children were not affected, Sally A. Koblinsky and Martha L. Taylor said.

Koblinsky, a professor of family development, and Taylor, an assistant professor of human nutrition, studied 73 pre-school-age children over 12 months. At the time of the study, 35 families were living in emergency shelters, while the others had one-year leases in transitional shelters.

Koblinsky and Taylor screened one child from each family, usually the oldest. They determined that 35 percent of the children had developmental skills -- such as motor and language skills -- characteristic of their age group. Broken down by sex, that was 41 percent of the girls and 29 percent of the boys.

Of the others tested, 47 percent performed below average for their age and 18 percent earned borderline scores that indicated they should be retested.

"Homeless children were especially likely to exhibit problems in the areas of sleep, shyness, attention span, withdrawal, demanding behavior, coordination and aggression," said Koblinsky.

The children in emergency shelters had more problems with sleeping and toilet training than the children in transitional centers, but that was the only key difference between the children in short-term and long-term housing.

"A lot of people think the answer to homelessness is affordable housing," Koblinsky said. "But our study shows children need more than just affordable housing."

While Koblinsky concedes that the large number of children with below-average development is reason for concern, she said the fact that more than one-third of the children had passing scores was remarkable. She credited the mothers of the children, who she said had a keen interest in furthering their children's development.

"I think it really is a testimony to the mother-child bond," said Koblinsk.

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