Psychologists and other professionals working with or studying street children must avoid the twin temptations of seeing everything as victimisation demanding sympathy and of romanticising their lives.
That is the conclusion of an article on the state of research on the street children of Latin America by Graham Pluck from Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador, published in the January 2015 issue of The Psychologist. The Psychologist is the monthly magazine of the British Psychological Society.
Graham Pluck says that the lives of street children cry out for attention from psychologist as “the levels of potentially psychologically toxic factors that such children are exposed to is shocking”. He quotes figures showing extremely high levels of drug and solvent abuse among street children, and also figures showing horrific levels of sexual abuse. One survey found the mean age of first sexual intercourse was 5.8 years for girls and 8.6 for boys.
However, Graham Pluck also quotes research that suggests that, compared with poor children who do not leave home, homeless children do not show raised levels of psychological distress. Another study found that on some tests of mental ability street children scored higher than poor children with no experience of life on the streets.
Graham Pluck concludes:
“The lives of poor children in Latin American and other low- and middle-income countries often differ markedly from many of those in the richer, more developed countries. In a globalised 21st century, psychologists must stop focusing solely on their local contexts and consider the psychological lives of adults and children around the world. It is not enough for the study of child development in poor countries to be left to the psychologists in those countries.”
Other articles in the January issue of The Psychologist look at Mindulness, different understanding of mental illness and the role of the first clinical psychologist to be commissioned in the British Army.