Moving home is said to be one of the most stressful life events, ranking alongside long-term illness, loss of employment, bankruptcy and divorce. Moving home is part of modern life: some no longer buy a home to live there forever, but rather to simply get on the property ladder. Moving is also common due to family breakdowns, loss of employment – or even to be in the catchment area for a better school.
Research has found that less than a third of people have stayed in one home up until their 18th birthday. And the emotional and behavioural effects of moving in adults and older children have been clearly demonstrated.
Adults can clearly discuss the ways in which moving affects them, but children, particularly when they are young, are unable to verbalise their feelings about it. Young children are regarded as resilient and adaptable to moving. However, the possible effects that moving home have on the health and developmental outcomes of young children has undergone little research until now.
The findings of research studies we carried out showed that moving can be more than just detrimental to a child’s social life, or cause minor schooling disruptions – it can actually affect children’s health and development.
In a study of 800,000 subjects, taken from routine linked data held in Swansea University’s anonymised databank, our research specifically looked at the health and development of youngsters who had moved home, all of whom had been born in or were living in Wales. The sources of data included community and child health records, primary care data, secondary care data, births and death, and educational data.
Every time an individual registered a change of address with a healthcare provider, like a local GP, it was registered within the dataset, and so we counted each change as a “move”. We analysed three different areas – formal education assessment, vaccination status and potentially preventable hospitalisations – and found some surprising links between each and the number of home moves.
In looking at formal educational assessment, we explored whether moving home or moving school had any effect on achievement at key stage one, which is typically assessed when a child is age between six and seven-years-old. We looked at home moves within three time periods – up to the age of one, age one to four, and aged between four and six – as well as school moves between four and six-years-old.
We found that children who moved home frequently were less likely to achieve in their formal key stage one assessments when compared with children who did not move. The results were particularly marked between age four and six, where just one home move resulted in an increased likelihood of not achieving. And children who moved three or more times between the ages of one and four years were less likely to achieve the required standard. The biggest effects were seen with school moves between the ages of four and six years, however.
The findings suggest that children who experience frequent home or school moves may be at a disadvantage in terms of education. In order to manage the effect that moving has on schooling, additional support is needed to ensure that children continue to work towards the expected educational standards.
Health at home
Another area we looked into was vaccination status: we examined whether there was any association between moving home frequently and whether immunisations had been received and if they were given on time – that is to say, whether they were administered when usually given or between six months and a year later.
We found that the uptake rates and timeliness of childhood immunisations was high for both the non-movers and the frequent movers. Moving home did not represent any increased risk for uptake of any of the primary immunisations and whether they were received on time. These findings suggest that children who move home frequently are not adversely affected in terms of immunisations, and may indeed reflect proactive behaviour in primary healthcare to meet government coverage rates for immunisation.
However, the same positive outcome did not apply to potentially preventable hospitalisations. We investigated the association between moving home in the first year of life and emergency admissions for potentially preventable hospitalisations up to age five. This included those hospital visits which could be be preventable with high quality primary, such as: vaccine preventable conditions; asthma; dehydration and gastroenteritis; ear, nose and throat infections; dental conditions; appendicitis; convulsions and epilepsy; and injuries and poisoning.
We found that children who move in the first year of life were at a substantially higher risk of being admitted for emergency preventable hospitalisations. The number of children admitted to hospital increased with the number of home moves, and these effects persisted even after controlling for other risk factors. It may be that moving home results in severing of links with primary care providers, which could mean that parents present to hospital more often when their child is ill or injured. Moving home may also represent an increased injury risk, or result in increased stress.
Though further research is certainly needed into this matter, there are things that could be done now to reduce the impact that moving home has on children. There are potential benefits, for example, in enhancing health and social services support, educating parents about safety risk and improving housing quality.