Report reveals 'devastating impact' of homelessness in classrooms

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An investigation by Shelter, exploring how teachers view the impact of homelessness on children, reveals that many are struggling to cope with the growing levels of homelessness in their classrooms.

In-depth interviews with primary and secondary teachers and education professionals from ten different schools across the country reveal that children who are homeless fall behind academically, fall asleep in class, and become socially isolated, anxious and withdrawn.

Teachers also described the negative impact homelessness in their classrooms had on them personally, leading them to feel emotionally and physically exhausted, frustrated and at times, despondent.

Key findings from the investigation reveal that:

  • Children’s mental health, attitudes and behaviours are negatively impacted. Teachers reported that homeless children often felt an overwhelming sense of displacement having lost a place that felt like home. Homelessness could also cause severe emotional trauma leading to emotional stress, anxiety and problematic behaviours
  • Homeless children’s educational attainment suffers as a result of homelessness. Studying could be challenging or impossible for students who did not have access to computers, or places to work. For those at crucial stages of their education, for example around exams, teachers felt it was difficult for them to ever catch up
  • Being moved from place to place, and the lack of facilities in emergency accommodation impacts children’s health and hygiene
  • Homeless children’s behaviour often changes, with younger children becoming withdrawn or upset, and older children lashing out, becoming angry, truanting or refusing to do any classwork
  • Children’s relationships with their peers suffers greatly. Teachers reported that children missed out on extra-curricular or social activities like discos, or that children felt like they weren’t able to fit in.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said, "It’s deeply upsetting to hear about children who don’t have a home to call their own and end up falling behind at school, are socially isolated from their peers and suffer emotional trauma.

"No child should have their future put in jeopardy like this. This is the tragic result of a country buckling under the weight of sky high rents, welfare cuts and a chronic lack of affordable homes. We will all face the consequences if our young people are forced to grow up without a stable home and a good education.

"At Shelter, we will continue to do all we can to help families fight homelessness but we urgently need the public’s support. For the sake of future generations, we must pull together to end this devastating crisis for good.”

A primary pastoral care worker at a school in Birmingham said, "I think it is a sad state of affairs when we live in the country that we live in and we have children that are homeless and that they are living in the conditions that they live in. You shouldn’t have to worry that you are going home to a bed and breakfast when you are a six-year-old really."

A secondary school teacher from North West London, said, "Homelessness has a massive negative impact on children, on their mental health and their attainment in school and just their life chances."

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