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‘At risk children’ more likely to become homeless

21 April 2009

Children who have poor relationships with their parents or who have experienced parental or caregiver neglect are more likely to experience homelessness as young adults, a new Cardiff University research study has found.

In the first large-scale, population-based study a team from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology and the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychological Medicine tested and identified a number of key risk factors associated with homelessness in early adulthood.

The study, which examined data from the United States and included a representative sample of high schools, found that among young adults between the ages of 18-27 years, a number of risk factors in childhood were associated with episodes of homelessness.

It is estimated that some 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness each year. In 2007, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 75,000 young people in the UK had experienced homelessness between 2006-7, a higher rate compared with the rest of Europe.

Dr Katherine Shelton, School of Psychology, who led the study said: "Among the young adults studied, several factors related to adversity in childhood were associated with an increased risk of homelessness.

"Risk factors in childhood included poor relationships with parents, neglect, or being forced or placed out of the home. Other risk factors that may occur later in life include economic disadvantage as well as experiences of mental illness or drug use."

The findings provide an insight into the role of various life experiences and their relationship with homelessness in adulthood. The study also suggests that efforts to reduce homelessness should be targeted at the most at risk groups and provides some important lessons for those seeking to tackle homelessness in the UK.

Dr Shelton added: "This study provides us with a greater understanding of the events that occur early in life that may be associated with homelessness in adulthood.

"It is important that we fully understand the causes of homelessness without which we risk providing support services for homeless people that are potentially ineffective or even counterproductive. Our findings have important implications for prevention as well as intervention efforts, and re-focus attention on the importance of early experiences for well-being in adulthood.

"Closer attention should be paid to meeting the emotional and material needs of individuals identified in childhood as experiencing dysfunctional family relations. Getting this right may help reduce the burden of social care for homeless young adults in the US and other western countries"


Notes to Editors:

1. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Visit the University website at:

2. Cardiff School of Psychology

The School of Psychology is one of Britain’s top-rated schools of psychology. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, it was ranked first in the UK on the basis of overall quality of research and numbers of staff whose work was submitted. In an independent assessment of its teaching, conducted by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the School was rated ‘Excellent’.




Further Information:

For further information, please contact

Dr Katherine Shelton, PhD.


School of Psychology

Cardiff University

029 20 876093


Chris Jones

Public Relations Office,

Cardiff University.

029 20 874731


Risk Factors for Homelessness: Evidence from a population-based study. Katherine H. Shelton, PhD, Pamela J Taylor MD, Adrian Bonner Ph.D, Marianne van den Bree, Ph.D was published in Psychiatric Services, April 2009, Vol 60, No 4. The study, examined data from the United States National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. A copy of the paper is available on request.