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Thousands of babies face homelessness

Unstable Start

New report 'An Unstable Start' on the impact of homelessness on babies launched by the NSPCC and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.

When you think of a homeless person, the chances are you picture an adult. But the reality is that many babies are homeless.

A new report by the NSPCC and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families describes how almost 16,000 infants in England under the age of two do not have a secure or permanent home. Many live with their parents in temporary accommodation, such as hostels, or move about from place to place staying with friends.

Tessa Baradon, a co-author of the report and Lead of Parent Infant Project at the Centre, said: “Homeless families are often amongst the most vulnerable in society. Being homeless in and of itself impacts parenting through stressors such as loss of social support, stigma and isolation. Babies are likely to be particularly vulnerable because early relationship experiences shape brain development and can have lifelong effects.”

She added: “But early intervention programmes that support the attachment between homeless parents and their babies can ameliorate the impact of the stresses on the baby.”

The report, ‘An Unstable Start’, highlights the Centre’s work in England’s Lane Hostel in Camden as a key example of how the parent-infant relationship can be supported in hostels.

In collaboration with Camden’s Health Visiting Service, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families runs a baby clinic to address the specific attachment and developmental needs of infants living in temporary accommodation. The clinic is held in a large communal room at the hostel. A health visitor provides routine medical care including weighing and immunisations. At the same time, a parent infant psychotherapist runs a group that focuses on the infant–parent relationship and the babies’ emotional needs.

The drop-in, on-site nature of the hostel clinic makes the service non-stigmatising and accessible to many who would not otherwise make use of such services.

Jessica James, who works as Parent-Infant Psychotherapist in the hostel, said: “ When parents first come down to the clinic they are often uncertain about going to the mat and playing with their babies. Seeing their babies starting to socialize and enjoy themselves, they begin to relax and share experiences. The parents and babies become more confident discussing concerns.”

The Centre's work is highlighted in the report as an example of good practice. And its authors call for more support like this for homeless parents and infants. They also demand an urgent review of housing regulations, benefits and processes.

Chris Cuthbert, NSPCC’s Head of Strategy and Development, said: “If a parent faces homelessness or unstable housing, their ability to provide the sensitive, responsive and consistent emotional care that is so essential to a babies’ development can be compromised. The NSPCC recommends that the UK government create a new ‘Gold Standard’ for babies, setting out standards that homelessness services should reach for pregnant women and families with babies to ensure that they have secure, stable and safe housing, and the support that they need.

“It is vital that policy and practice is better integrated across maternal and infant health, early years children's services and housing services so that we can better protect this vulnerable group. National housing regulations need to be reviewed and revised so that systems prioritise pregnant women and recognise their need for safety, stability and social support.”

The full report ‘An unstable start: Spotlight on homelessness’ is available at