That's according to data collected in the Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) Emergency Department over the last decade.
A sample of 5,000 families who sought care at the Emergency Department at Arkansas Children's Hospital revealed that about 51 percent of them lacked reliable housing. Children in these homes were 34 percent more likely to be underweight - one indication of malnutrition - and they were also found to be at risk for poorer health outcomes and developmental delays. The data were compiled in partnership with the non-partisan pediatric research center Children's HealthWatch as part of a national study that was published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).
"Every day we see children in the ACH Emergency Department who could thrive if only they had the advantage of a safe and healthy place to call home," said Patrick Casey, MD, director of the Medical Home Clinic at Arkansas Children's Hospital and an author of the AJPH manuscript. "Many of their parents are trying so hard to change their situations, but it's not something that happens overnight. The high cost of housing and the poor availability of affordable housing in the current economic times make it very challenging for many families to locate adequate housing."
Children's HealthWatch provides parameters for what qualifies as housing insecurity: families who move twice or more in a 12-month period; have a residence that is crowded with more than two people sleeping in each bedroom or are living with another family because of financial issues; or were unable to meet rent payments at any point in the preceding 12 months.
The high cost of housing often pushes Arkansas families with young children to a point where they are also unable to pay for food, utilities like heat, air and water, or healthcare services and insurance. All of this puts their children's health at risk.
The family of 10-month-old Za'khiya Callery of Little Rock understands this plight all too well. Za'khiya's mother, Latasha Weaver, had to go on bed rest in her third month of pregnancy, sacrificing a steady income at a store in Texarkana, Tex., and resulting in the loss of her apartment lease. Her baby girl was born about four months early, and has spent most of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care and Infant Toddler Units at ACH.
"We had to choose between moving to another city in Texas - where we didn't know the doctors but could get housing easier since I have a child with a disability - or moving to Arkansas, where I knew the team at ACH, but wasn't sure if I could get an apartment," Weaver said. "I chose what I thought would be best for her."
Today Za'khiya faces all kinds of health challenges, including hydrocephaly and brittle bones, which require her to her to be held very carefully and in a specific pose. Weaver, who has taken college classes and dreams of becoming a social worker, qualified for three months of financial housing assistance. She worries about what will happen, though, if she's unable to find someone to care for Za'khiya while she's working to pay for rent.
"I just wish there was better housing assistance for children like mine," she said.
The research conducted by ACH and Children's HealthWatch indicates that families are making difficult sacrifices to afford the housing they are able to obtain for their children.
"The study underscores the need in Arkansas for the development of the housing trust fund," said Stephen Copley of Housing Arkansas. "It can assist children and families from facing this situation."
Arkansas Children's Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children from birth to age 21.