Early Childhood

Homelessness harms young children. Homelessness in early childhood has been found to be associated with delays in language, literacy, and social-emotional development, putting children at risk for later academic problems. The younger and longer a child experiences homelessness, the greater the cumulative toll of negative health outcomes, which can have lifelong effects on the child, the family, and the community.

Early childhood programs can change the trajectory of a child’s life. Yet homelessness creates unique barriers to accessing and participating in early childhood programs. Several federal laws, including the McKinney-Vento Act, the Head Start Act, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, address these barriers with requirements for identification, outreach, enrollment, and coordinated support.

SchoolHouse Connection works to strengthen policy and practice at the local, state, and national level to ensure that young children experiencing homelessness have access to quality early childhood education.

  • Early Childhood Self-Assessment Tool for Shelters
    Prior to COVID-19, over 1.4 million children under age six — one in 16 children under six nationally — experienced homelessness. These numbers are expected to climb even higher, as the current health and economic crises push more families into homelessness. Homelessness compromises the very foundations of their lives, putting their health, development, and early learning at risk. While most children experiencing homelessness stay in hidden situations (couches, motels, etc.), a significant number also stay in homeless shelters. Many shelters are not designed with young children in mind, and homeless service providers may lack expertise in early childhood development. A newly validated self-assessment tool from Child Care Services Association and the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helps shelters create safe, developmentally appropriate environments that are vital to the life outcomes of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Releases Two Briefs on Young Children Experiencing Homelessness
    The experience of homelessness is harmful to young children’s development and well-being. High-quality early care and education (ECE) can help mitigate harm and support young children so that they are healthy and enter school ready to learn. Yet states, communities and early care and education providers face many barriers to ensuring access to care for these young children, including identifying children who are experiencing homelessness. Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released two briefs on young children experiencing homelessness. The first brief “Identifying Children Experiencing Homelessness in Early Care and Education” is designed to help understand the challenges states and communities face using data and potential opportunities for strengthening data collected to estimate rates of early childhood homelessness and identify young children experiencing homelessness. The second brief “Facilitating Access to Early Care and Education for Children Experiencing Homelessness” discusses the barriers in accessing ECE among families experiencing homelessness and describes ways in which states and communities support the enrollment of children experiencing homelessness in ECE.
  • Responsive Early Education for Young Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness
    The experience of homelessness creates significant stress for young children at a critical time in their development — and with the COVID-19 outbreak creating more disruption for young children, as well as more homelessness, the need for responsive early childhood programs is greater than ever. A new book published by the California Department of Education’s Early Learning and Care Division provides early childhood teachers, administrators, and program staff factual information so that they can create welcoming, inclusive, and strength-based environments that are responsive to the unique needs of young children and families experiencing homelessness. The book provides effective strategies and trauma-informed practices that can be implemented in early childhood programs to support children and their families experiencing homelessness. It also includes authentic vignettes created from interviews with children and families experiencing homelessness across California, in addition to the diverse professionals who serve them.
  • Young Children Experiencing Homelessness: An Overview
    This two-page fact sheet summarizes existing data on young children who are homeless and their families, including the impact of homelessness on health, development, early learning, and well-being.
  • One-page summary of access to early learning for children experiencing homelessness, birth to five
    This one-pager summarizes access to early learning for children experiencing homelessness, including the following topic: preschool under the McKinney-Vento Act, Head Start and Early Head Start, Child Care Subsidies, Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV), and support for young children with developmental delays or disabilities.
  • Early Care and Education Advocacy: A Tip Sheet for Housing and Homeless Assistance Providers
    This short document provides basic information to help housing and homeless assistance providers advocate with their families and youth for appropriate educational services, from birth through higher education. The rights and protections outlined here apply to all children and youth experiencing homelessness, as defined by the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act.
  • Guide to Using Sesame Street in Communities’ Resources on Family Homelessness
    Sesame Street in Communities has produced free, bilingual resources for children and families experiencing homelessness and the providers who serve them. There are many different kinds of providers, including school district homeless liaisons, early childhood programs, and homeless assistance and housing programs. To help these providers quickly begin to use Sesame Street content in the context of their specific work, SchoolHouse Connection has produced brief suggestions, organized by provider role. Also, because there is a role for all of us in supporting children and families experiencing homelessness, we offer suggestions for the general public, as well as for children and youth who wish to help other children and youth.
  • Deeper Dives for Schools: Practical Strategies to Serve Young Children Experiencing Homelessness
    This new document series, Deeper Dives for Schools, is created in partnership with David Douglas School District in Oregon. It is designed to provide school and district staff with practical strategies to serve young children experiencing homelessness. Each one-page tip sheet shares strategies on a different aspect of access.
  • Online Training on Homelessness for Head Start and Child Care Providers
    The Administration for Children and Families has created online training on homelessness intended for professionals in Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care, including early childhood and school-age child care providers, CCDF Lead Agency or designated entity staff, and other key stakeholders. Learn how to identify families experiencing homelessness, conduct community outreach, and much more. Certificates of Completion are provided.
  • Childproofing Checklist for Housing and Homeless Service Providers
    The quality of the very early years of a child’s life is predictive of lifelong health, educational attainment, and economic security. Unfortunately, many housing and homeless service systems and programs are ill-equipped to provide the resources and support that infants, young children, and school-aged children and their families need. This tool is designed to help housing and homeless service providers make their spaces, practices, and policies safe for children.
  • Pathways to Partnership: Early Childhood Education
    Quality early childhood programs can change the trajectory of a child’s health and well-being, and help families experiencing homelessness regain stability. Local educational agency (LEA) McKinney-Vento liaisons and homeless service providers funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are required by law to connect families experiencing homelessness to early childhood programs. The first in a new SHC series, this guide is designed to help LEA liaisons and homeless service providers develop a basic understanding of, and build partnerships with, five key early childhood programs.
  • Increasing Access to PreK and Other Early Childhood Programs for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness
    The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), the Head Start Program Performance Standards, and the Child Care Development Fund regulations contain new requirements for identifying and supporting young children experiencing homelessness. This webinar, recorded on June 27, 2017, provides a brief overview of these policies as well as practical suggestions for implementing them at the local and state level. School district and state education agency leaders describe the steps that they have taken to put policies into practice, and offer suggestions for adapting and replicating these practices to support our youngest children experiencing homelessness. Download the Powerpoint and sample tools and forms here.
  • Is My Early Childhood Program a McKinney-Vento “Preschool”?
    The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) amended the McKinney-Vento Act to include preschools specifically within the definition of “school of origin.” To determine whether a particular early childhood education program is a “preschool” under ESSA, a helpful reference is the definition ED uses for McKinney-Vento data collection.
  • Early Childhood Homelessness State Profiles 2020 compiles data from multiple sources from the 2017-18 school year to provide information on the extent of early childhood homelessness and the availability of federally-funded early childhood education for young children experiencing homelessness across the United States.
  • The Lasting Impact of Homelessness on Infants. Research published in Health Affairs finds that the impact of homelessness on infants goes beyond the effects of poverty, and lasts throughout early childhood. Across most indicators, children who experienced homelessness as infants were more likely to have health problems, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits than children in poverty who did not experience infant homelessness. Through the end of the study (at age 6), infants exposed to homelessness still had higher rates of asthma and used emergency departments at higher rates.
  • ZERO TO THREE Journal—March 2019: Young Children And Families Experiencing Homelessness. SchoolHouse Connection’s own Dr. Grace Whitney, Director of Early Childhood Initiatives, is guest editor of the Journal’s March issue, which includes a sampling of policies, practices, challenges, and opportunities on homelessness facing the infant–toddler field today. The authors cover topics ranging from early care and early childhood programs to parenting supports, housing, pediatrics, and young families.
  • Early Care and Education Advocacy: A Tip Sheet for Housing and Homeless Assistance Providers
    This short document provides basic information to help housing and homeless assistance providers advocate with their families and youth for appropriate educational services, from birth through higher education. The rights and protections outlined here apply to all children and youth experiencing homelessness, as defined by the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act.
  • Preschool to Prevent Homelessness: Research, Rights, and Resources
    The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) amended the McKinney-Vento Act in several important ways to increase access to preschool programs. This page contains frequent questions and answers about preschool and homelessness, and links to resources to help implement the new policies.
  • A summary on Federal Child Care Regulations and Homelessness
    The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is a federal and state partnership program that provides financial assistance to low-income families to access child care, so they can work or attend a job training or educational program. The final CCDF regulations were published in September 2016, and contain new requirements for serving children and families experiencing homelessness.

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