Documentation of the impact of poverty on children becomes ever deeper and more powerful: A recent study published by the Urban Institute found significant rates of school related problems, risky behavior and mental health problems for youths living in distressed public housing. In their report, they show the risk that children face when in poverty, particularly for young girls living in low-income housing where many of them experience harassment, abuse, and sexual assault, and the trauma that results.
The study is drawn from a 2012 survey of parents and young people living in Chicago and Portland sites participating in a $6 million Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) collaboration with the Open Society Institute. Researchers concluded that young girls have significant high rates of anxiety, out of school suspension and sexual activity. In Chicago, about 55 percent of the young people surveyed experienced anxiety, 50 percent experienced out of school suspension and, in both the Chicago and Portland sites, about 54 percent experienced high rates of sexual activity.
Susan Popkin, Director of the Urban Institute’s Program on Neighborhoods and Youth Development, explains in a recent Metrotrends blog post that the young girls feel a sense of powerlessness which not only comes from not believing anyone can help them, but also from the fact that they do not feel safe in their own homes, since much of the abuse they experience comes at the hands of people they know.
These findings are reinforced by an excellent summary of research (with many links to the original studies) published by Child Trends last month, which describes the many ways in which poverty harms children.
The Urban Institute is working in public housing in Washington DC to help girls who experience chronic disadvantage by creating programs to address the prevalence of sexual harassment. Their research also demonstrates the great need for access to mental health supports and services that can help to reduce the risks facing low-income women and young girls.