Just what is “child neglect?”

Losing one’s home is pretty devastating to say the least, especially when one has children to feed, shelter and educate, etc.  In today’s economic climate, this is happening more than ever, and families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.  Especially for those parents who never dreamed they’d be in such a situation, being homeless results in much anxiety, emotional turmoil and fear about what to do to next to keep a roof over their family’s head.

Adding insult to the injury of these worries, did you know that in some states across the nation, losing your home can also result in losing your children?   And that not being able to provide adequate shelter for your kids can be considered “child neglect?”

We were pleased to see this matter come to light in a recent post on change.org’s End Homelessness blog.  The post points to parents who are doing what they can for their children, but are losing custody anyway because they have nowhere to live.  Among her points, the author contends that:

  • No one wants children sleeping on the streets (of course not!); but
  • Legally stripping decent parents of custody and placing children in foster care is a painful, not to mention expensive, process.
  • Former foster kids have high rates of homelessness; and
  • Taking kids away from parents whose only “neglectful” behavior was becoming homeless, and  then placing those kids in a system that puts them at greater risk for homelessness themselves, makes no sense.

At the Coalition, we are very aware that the state of Florida doesn’t specifically use the word “homeless” in defining child “neglect,” but decided to review Florida Statute 39.01 anyway.  In doing so, we consulted the US Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway report, a great document that summarizes the definitions of child abuse and neglect in each state.  Interestingly, though the word “homeless” does not appear, the deprivation of shelter and the effects of an environment on a child’s physical, mental, or emotional health are referenced:

  • Neglect occurs when a child is deprived of, or is allowed to be deprived of, necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment or a child is permitted to live in an environment when such deprivation or environment causes the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired or to be in danger of being significantly impaired.

Whether or not the definition of “child neglect” includes a roof over one’s head, families staying at Coalition for the Homeless do not have to worry during this trying time.  Not only do we provide shelter and food, but we offer the support and services they need to get back on the road to independence.  And as they’re working toward a better life, their children benefit from our fully-licensed daycare and other programs to help break the cycle of homelessness.

All that ……and the family stays together!

To learn more about our programs and services for families with children and how you can help us do what we do to return them to self-sufficiency, please visit www.centralfloridahomeless.org.

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