Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Overlapping Issues of At-risk Groups


Homeless children, because of their impoverished circumstances and residential instability share commonalities with another at-risk group of children, namely dependents of migrant farm workers. Mostly Latino of Mexican and Central American heritage, migrant farm workers provide a low-cost source of labor for American farmers who seasonally require large numbers of temporary workers to harvest their crops. About one-third of such workers lead a transient lifestyle as they travel from one state to another in the course of a year, laboring to harvest the different types of produce grown in each region. They are paid low-wages, usually with no or minimal benefits and must live in crowded makeshift abodes. It is estimated that about 42 percent of the 2 million farm workers in the United States are migrant workers. The National Commission on Migrant Education (1992) estimated that about 600,000 children belong to migrant farm worker families. Older children sometimes work alongside adults in the fields while younger children are loosely supervised during working hours. Studies of children of migrant farm workers have observed problems of a similar nature to that of homeless children, including higher rates of health and mental health problems compared to children in the general population, elevated rates of physical abuse, and academic problems (Kupersmidt and Martin, 1997; Larson, Doris, and Alvarez, 1987; Research Triangle Institute, 1992; Slesinger, Christenson, and Cautley, 1986). While the residential instability of migrant workers is somewhat more elective and predictable than for homeless families, it nonetheless can lead to similar problems, particularly difficulties in attending school and graduating (National Commission on Migrant Education, 1992).

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