By Marsha Basloe, Senior Advisor, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Interdepartmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development
What does one million look like? It is a lot.
Head Start/Early Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families with comprehensive services.
According to data released in 2013, for the first time in history, during the 2010-2011 school year, public schools identified more than one million homeless students. This is the highest number on record.
One million looks like a lot. It is written as 1,000,000 (with six zeros).
It is why the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray held a briefing on Homelessness in America with U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and staffers from the offices of Sen. Murray and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings. The number of families who are homeless has been increasing throughout the United States in recent years. More than 1.6 million children under the age of 18 were homeless in the United States in 2010.
With these startling numbers, it is also upsetting that more than half a million young children not yet in kindergarten did not have a place to call home. Very young children are profoundly affected by the loss of a consistent living situation, most especially in the first three years when routine and familiarity provide a sense of safety and security.
Children experience high rates of chronic and acute health problems while homeless. The constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experiences also has profound effects on their development and ability to learn. Research led by Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard's Center on the Developing Child and chairman of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, reveals that persistent highly adverse experiences actually damage a child's brain circuits. As a 2008 paper by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard explained:
"This condition literally interferes with developing brain circuits, and poses a serious threat to young children, not only because it undermines their emotional well-being, but also because it can impair a wider range of developmental outcomes including early learning, exploration and curiosity, school readiness, and later school achievement."
The federal government is focused on developing an interagency framework to achieve the Opening Doors’ goal of ending family homelessness by 2020. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) convened a workgroup focused on preventing and ending family homelessness. Work was submitted and reviewed about departments’ programs and practices, suggested strategies for increasing impact and recommendations are now being developed.
This work continues….. More than a million children are at stake.
*One in 45 children is homeless in America, more than 1.6 million each year, according to America’s Youngest Outcasts, a report by The National Center on Family Homelessness.