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The Invisible Dilemma? Children in Temporary Accommodation During COVID-19

2 February 2021

A new, nationwide study led by Professor Monica Lakhanpaul and co-led by Diana Margot Rosenthal will be addressing the impact that COVID-19 has had on children under-five living in temporary accommodation.

The Invisible Dilemma? Children in Temporary Accommodation During COVID-19

The Children’s Commissioner reported that approximately 585,000 children were homeless or at risk of homelessness in England in 2019. And yet, those in temporary accommodation have a unique, “invisible” plight as they are excluded from research and national policies; not appearing to pose an obvious need as “homeless because they are not on the streets (e.g. rough sleepers),”  according to Diana Rosenthal.

Homeless children, particularly those under five years old, are more vulnerable to common childhood illnesses, missing key developmental milestones, and behavioural and emotional difficulties. They often struggle to access health or care services that might help, and this situation has only worsened with COVID-19 and the reduction of services like child health and immunisation programmes. These problems lead to greater risk of illness and death in later life and cost the NHS millions of pounds every year.

Children in temporary accommodation and their families are at greater risk from COVID-19 as they often cannot follow the basic guidelines that have been promoted throughout the pandemic – namely social distancing, self-isolating and handwashing – due to overcrowded housing, shared facilities or other issues.

The Institute of Health Visiting has highlighted the fact that there is little planning for addressing the needs of children in temporary accommodation. But, as 37% of homeless families in England in 2017/18 were from BAME backgrounds, the general guidance from Public Health England may not always be culturally appropriate or accessible.

Professor Lakhanpaul and Diana Rosenthal (UCL GOS Institute of Child Health)  are leading a nationwide study to develop ways to reach these children, as well as for how to help them in the future, post-COVID. These include tailoring strategies from successful global public health projects, but above all will require working with communities, which is an area that both are experts in.

Homeless communities are among those hit hardest by COVID-19 and represent one of the greatest health inequalities and inequities in the country. This project aims to address that and will also provide a model for future researchers and policymakers to engage with them.

The team will be launching an innovative knowledge exchange digital platform, which will be accessible to the families participating in the study where they can tell their stories of lockdown, whilst also enabling the researchers to produce visual material to help families access support services. This is particularly significant, as the language barrier is one of the main problems for homeless families. The platform/website will be also be publicly accessible

The study will run for 18 months and be conducted by a team of researchers from UCL, De Montfort University, and third sector organisations. Co-Is include: Dr. Marcella Ucci, Dr. Michelle Heys, Dr. Nadzeya Svirydzenka, Professor Raghu Raghavan, Professor Robert Aldridge, Professor Paula Lorgelly and Professor Sushma Acquilla.

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