The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may have waned in some sectors, but children in Vermont continue to feel the growing impact on mental health and homelessness.
Trends in homelessness and mental health alarmed those compiling the data for the 2022 “State of Vermont’s Children” report by Building Bright Futures, the state’s advisory committee on early childhood.
Some of the data are specific to 2022, and others compare recent readings with data from before the pandemic as a way to understand the impact of the public health emergency on Vermont families and children.
Mental health problems are on the rise in preschool and elementary school
Between 2018 and 2021, Vermont saw a 60 percent increase in children ages 3 to 8 with a mental, emotional or behavioral health condition. These conditions may manifest as anxiety, depression, or behavior and conduct problems.
Of all youth in this age group, 8.7 percent required services in 2018 and 13.8 percent by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The 8 percent figure the country has maintained between 2016 and 2021 makes Vermont’s stats all the more remarkable.
In a briefing on the report, Dora Levinson, director of research and data at Building Bright Futures, said there was ample anecdotal evidence that more children than ever needed mental health services. The acuity of their needs is also increasing.
Other data in the report showed a link between areas with fewer children receiving routine mental health services and higher numbers of calls to crisis care. Levinson also said preventive care can go a long way in helping, but federal programs like Medicaid and the mental health services block grant only pay for services that have been diagnosed.
“A lack of federal funding for upstream prevention and promotion services is hindering Vermont’s ability to turn the curve on health,” Levinson said.
Vermont currently has the fewest number of outdoor treatment beds in more than two decades, and as a result, many children end up in emergency rooms, the report said. Of the 1,500 children who received emergency mental health services in 2019, 16 percent waited at least two days for placement.
“We are at a critical moment in the public health emergency of early childhood mental health. This moment will have long-term consequences based on our actions or inactions,” Levinson said.
Dramatic increase in homeless children
A growing number of Vermont children don’t have a stable place to rest their heads at night, reports show. The January 2022 point-in-time measurement shows a 130% increase in homeless households, including children, compared to before the pandemic.
The federal McKinney-Vento Homelessness Act defines housing insecurity as a lack of secure and adequate overnight accommodation, which includes sharing temporary housing with others and living in a place not designed for regular sleeping accommodation.
In the 2019-2020 school year, approximately 250 students under the age of 9 were housing insecure, but this number increased to approximately 400 in the 2021-2022 school year.
“Trauma from any period of homelessness, even short-term, can have a significant impact on future development,” Levinson said, adding that these children had higher rates of emotional and behavioral problems as well as short-term and long-term health problems. high.
The report concluded that the issues driving the increase in family homelessness in Vermont were a lack of housing and a gap between the wages earned and the cost of living.
The 2021 rental vacancy rate is 2.4%, the lowest in the country, the report said. And, the 2021 homeowner vacancy rate of 0.6% leaves many households without enough available housing options. Healthy rent and owner vacancy rates are around 8% and 2%, respectively.
what can be doneEmergency housing in Vermont faces crisis point. This is the national plan.
In Vermont, a family of four with two adults would need to earn $107,960 in 2022 to meet the family’s most basic needs, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. However, the median salary for a family of four is $90,556, which means many people don’t meet that threshold.
Building Bright Future reports that at least 32 percent of households are spending more than 30 percent of their monthly budget on housing alone, and the figure is even higher at 50 percent for renters.
“Finding any rental, let alone an affordable, desirable rental, can be extremely challenging for families,” Levinson said. Many families are unable to own a home.
Inflation is also causing Vermont households to have less money available at the end of the month. From January 2021 to September 2022, the average Vermont household spent 11 percent more on goods, housing, transportation and energy, Levinson said.
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