Author: Aniek Moonen

When we think about homelessness, we tend to forget the children behind the adults. In the past ten years, the amount of homeless families in the Netherlands has exploded (CBS 2019). In 2017, this resulted in more than 4000 children living in homeless shelters (Mebius 2017). For children living in these conditions, the performance in primary and/or secondary education is often severely impacted. Homelessness in children tends to lead to social exclusion and therefore low attendance, mental health issues and high drop-out rates. 

The Unexpected Side Effects of Homelessness 

Where adults are already struggling to find the right support in shelters, children are neglected so badly that their education often suffers from it. After arrival, only a quarter of the children in Dutch shelters are offered an intake interview (Mebius 2017). Children often do not go to school during the initial ‘stabilisation period’, which may take a couple of weeks but could last months (Ministerie van Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport 2011). Dutch primary and secondary education are generally free, which allows homeless children to continue school even though their parents are in debt. However, extracurriculars and school trips often still require a fee to be paid for children to attend. When children cannot attend these activities, they may become socially excluded and show lower attendance (Mebius 2017; Ministerie van Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport 2011).

Homelessness and Mental Health

According to research from Radboud University in 2009, approximately half of the children in Dutch shelters is suffering from mental health and behavioural problems (Algemene Rekenkamer 2009). Most of these issues originate from before shelter uptake (Ministerie van Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport 2011), but they often get worse during the stay (Molnar, Rath, & Klein 1990). These mental health problems, as shown by Berg et al. (1985), are one of the main reasons homeless children have lower school attendance. 

Apart from lower school attendance, research by the Dutch ministry of health has shown that homeless children between the ages 15-17 are very likely to drop out of school (Ministerie van Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport 2011). In these cases, the children come into their young adulthood with huge disadvantages that are hard to come back from. Making sure that homeless children are given the right care and support is therefore vital in making sure that they get a fair and equal shot at life and are not pushed into homelessness, just because their parents were. 


Algemene Rekenkamer (2009). Opvang zwerfjongeren 2009 (p. 83).

Berg, I., Casswell, G., Goodwin, A., Hullin, R., Mcguire, R., & Tagg, G. (1985). “Classification of severe school attendance problems.” Psychological Medicine 15(1): 157–165.

CBS (2019). “Aantal daklozen sinds 2009 meer dan verdubbeld.” Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek. At

Mebius, D. (2017). “Erdan is 5 jaar en al een jaar dakloos.“ De Volkskrant. At

Ministerie van Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport (2011). Zwerfjongeren: Aanpak en achtergrond voor beleid. At

Molnar, J. M., Rath, W. R., & Klein, T. P. (1990). “Constantly Compromised: The Impact of Homelessness on Children.” Journal of Social Issues 46(4): 109–124.

How Is Homelessness Affecting Children’s Education?

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