All Babies Count: spotlight on homelessness - an unstable start How babies can be affected by homelessness and what can be done to help

Woman holding babyPregnancy and the first years are an important time in giving a child a healthy and safe start in life. Mothers need support and care during pregnancy. Once born, babies need a safe and stimulating environment and healthy early relationship with their caregivers. 

These needs can be more difficult to meet when parents are homeless. 

This NSPCC report, in partnership with the Anna Freud Centre, looks at what we know about babies whose parents are homeless. It sets out the impact on babies who don’t have a supportive, affordable, decent and secure place to live. It includes recommendations for government to help ensure that babies affected by homelessness get the best start in life. 

This report is part of our All Babies Count spotlight series on issues that affect families from pregnancy through the first years of life. 

Authors: Sally Hogg, Alice Haynes, Tessa Baradon and Chris Cuthbert
Published: 2015

  • Babies living in homeless families can be extremely vulnerable. Babies’ development is reliant on the quality of the care their parents are able to provide. For some parents who are homeless, providing this care can be difficult.
  • Homelessness means lacking a supportive, affordable, decent and secure place to live.
  • Parents who are homeless are often themselves amongst the most vulnerable in society, bringing with them histories of trauma and loss.  
  • Homelessness can affect parents’ ability to meet what babies need for a healthy and safe start in life. It can impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of pregnant women because of the stresses associated with housing instability and because it is harder to adopt a healthy lifestyle in such circumstances. Stress can also make it more difficult for parents to provide their babies with sensitive, responsive and consistent emotional care.
  • A baby’s physical development can also be affected. Many types of homeless accommodation lack the important safety, cleanliness and facilities babies need in order to thrive.
  • Homelessness often means that families do not receive the formal and informal support they need. Local services may not be set up to respond quickly to new homeless families in their area, and families might not know where services are or how to access them. Families might also be placed in accommodation away from their family and friends. 
Executive summary 5
Introduction 8
Families’ stories 11
Background: What do we know about homeless families and their needs? 13
How can homelessness affect babies’ safety and wellbeing? 19
Recommendations 29
A Gold Standard for babies 32
Appendix A: Examples of promising practice 34
Bibliography 35

"I had eviction notices telling me that I had to get out, people knocking on my door telling me I had to get out with my baby and be on the road. They tried to take all my stuff out the house. They tried to leave us on the pavement in the freezing cold with a five day old baby."

Please cite as: Hogg, S., Haynes, A., Baradon, T. and Cuthbert, C. (2015) An unstable start: All babies count: spotlight on homelessness. London: NSPCC.

All Babies Count Spotlight series

Our Spotlight reports are a series of papers on the developmental importance of pregnancy and infancy published as part of the NSPCC’s All Babies Count campaign.

All Babies Count aims to raise awareness of the importance of pregnancy and the first years of life to a child’s development. The NSPCC is calling for better early support for parents during this period to ensure all babies are safe and able to thrive.

Each Spotlight focuses on a different issue that affects families with babies and looks at what can be done to support parents to keep their infants safe and give them the care they need.

View All Babies Count Spotlight series

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