High-Quality Early Education Provides Homeless Children with Continuity and Stability
According to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 1.6 million children in the United States live on the streets or in homeless shelters. Forty-two percent of these children are under the age of six. In 2011, 4 percent of all families served through Head Start were homeless, including nearly 50,000 children. In some states, as many as 12 percent of all families served in the program were homeless.
Families who face homelessness are challenged by a multitude of daily problems that make it difficult to create a stable environment for their children. Homeless families must overcome immense challenges in sustaining children's routines, including daily school attendance. Moreover, children without housing or in temporary housing situations face severe barriers to getting physical and mental health services. But research shows that well-designed and well-implemented, high-quality early care and education programs can improve outcomes for all children, particularly those in low-income families, by connecting families to needed resources, providing stability, and, ultimately, helping children learn and develop skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
Recognizing the benefits of stable, high quality early education for homeless children, ACF has released a set of resources and recommendations to help guide early education programs to better serve homeless children and their families.
The resources include:
- A Letter from the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Head Start, and the Office of Child Care providing guidance
- Policies and Procedures to Increase Access to ECE Services for Homeless Children and Families
- Strategies for Increasing ECE Services for Homeless Children
- An Early Childhood and Family Homelessness Resource List
The ACF suggests that early education programs should:
- Prioritize access to services for homeless families
- Have policies in place for families who are temporarily homeless after a disaster
- Offer flexibility to homeless families
- Coordinate with homeless liaisons
- Work with homeless coalitions
- Coordinate Head Start and Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) policies to better serve homeless children
Homelessness is far too pervasive among children and families in the US. By bolstering the early education services we provide to these vulnerable children, we will help ensure stability and continuity for them, which will lead to healthy development, better educational outcomes, and brighter futures for children and families.