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Expanding ECE Services for Homeless Children

Three sets of hands holding a house.As the temperatures keep dropping, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is doing what it can to increase early care and education (ECE) services for children who are homeless. Ensuring the well-being of our youngest children is essential to the work of ACF and is especially urgent when considering the vulnerability of young children experiencing homelessness.

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. The numbers of homeless children are even higher when also counting families who are temporarily doubling up with others, living in campgrounds or otherwise without a stable home. 

A family’s housing circumstances can change very suddenly as evidenced when natural disasters cause families to be at least temporarily homeless. Research shows that children who experience homelessness also experience higher rates of chronic illness, developmental delays, anxiety and depression than children who live in stable homes. 

Given what we know about the positive impact of a quality early care and education experience on both family stability and on a child’s long-term health and development, it is critical that we prioritize this vulnerable population and reduce barriers to ensure they have access to available services. Additionally, given their unstable housing situations, it is also particularly important that homeless children have as much continuity and stability in their ECE settings as possible. 

We are therefore providing resources for ways to look at what Head Start and child care providers are already doing to identify and serve homeless children and to identify additional strategies to do even more. By going to our website (Expanding ECE for homeless children) you can access the materials that ACF is distributing across the country. They include fact sheets on strategies, resources and federal policies to assist Head Start and child care providers.

Examples of recommendations we make, some of which are required for Head Start, and strongly encouraged for child care, for increasing ECE services for homeless children include:

  • Prioritizing access to services for homeless children and their families when making decisions about enrollment in ECE programs, as required for Head Start grantees and strongly encouraged for those receiving Child Care and Development Funds from ACF.
  • Having policies in place to streamline access to services for families who are temporarily homeless after a disaster.
  • Offering flexibility concerning time period for providing required documentation for children and their families who are homeless.
  • Coordinating efforts with state and local educational agency Homeless Liaisons to reach out to homeless children and families and connect them to the available ECE resources as well as health and social services.
  • Participating on Homeless Coalitions to ensure the unique needs of young children are well represented.

ACF stands ready to help you make early care and education a priority for children who are homeless.  The well-being of our youngest children is essential, not only for the development of the child and the stability of the family, but for the ongoing success of our nation. 

Linda K. Smith is the Deputy Assistant Secretary & Interdepartmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development.

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