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When the word homeless is used by individuals, people begin to visualize older individuals as those who are homeless in communities. It is generally thought that homelessness only applies to people who are older in age and are destitute. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, physiological needs are basic to human growth and development. Without the basic necessities of life to include food, clothing, and shelter, individuals including children will become dependent on others for the basic necessities. Homeless does not affect just one specific group of individuals, it can affect individuals at any age and at any time. According to the National Center for Homeless Education (2016), there are more than 1 million children and youth in the United States who are experiencing homelessness. The McKinney-Veto Act defines homelessness for children as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (Cook, 2015, p.396). Factors that contribute to homeless children include a lack of affordable housing, violence in the homes, a lack of social support, behavioral health issues, medical issues, poverty, economic insecurity, a lack of financial resources, and their involvement in the child welfare system (Anooshian, 2005, p. 373).
Homeless children face the risk of exploitation. Exploitation is defined as an action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their service. Children who are homeless will need food, shelter, clothing, safety and security, and socialization. In addition, there may be self-esteem issues due to the basic needs not being met. Homeless children may also experience a deprivation of family support and are looking for someone to love them, care for their needs, and provide them with safety and security. Without safety and security, they can be exploited. Exploitation of children may include sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and labor trafficking. Children who are victims of the above are usually vulnerable and will need the help of a dependable and trustworthy adult to provide them with not only Maslow’s first level of needs but also safety and security which is Maslow’s second level of needs (Kellerman, 2014, p.540). As a human service professional, an individual can most effectively tend to the needs of homeless children and their families by providing them with information that would prevent a child from becoming a victim of sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and labor trafficking. The human service professional will also need to provide counseling services, educational services, and psychological services for both homeless children and homeless families with children where appropriate. In addition, a human service professional would need to make sure that homeless children are aware that there are helpful resources in the community. These resources may include emergency shelters and crisis intervention centers that will work with them to provide them with support, safety needs, and an opportunity to reconnect with their families.