by Deborah Bergeron, PhD
When adults are stressed, children don’t just feel it, they are shaped by it. Research finds that the stresses of family homelessness can affect a child’s well-being: delaying developmental milestones, compromising health and social/emotional regulation, and making it harder for them to enter school ready for the joys of learning.
Head Start’s comprehensive services approach addresses each child’s need, whether it’s a doctor or dentist visit, assessing learning delays, or helping parents set bedtime routines in a shelter. This all-in approach can buffer the stressful effects of family homelessness for the children we serve and their families.
Our 57,000 classrooms prioritize serving children experiencing homelessness; in the last decade, programs have more than doubled the number served. We see this intention in states like Arkansas where this spring, Head Start and local partners identified more than 630 unserved young children and made it their mission to enroll each one of them!
Parents are their child’s first and most important teacher, and local programs must address the realities and stresses of family homelessness. Last program year, more than 16,600 Head Start families secured housing, and 72,000 received housing assistance. Partners helped programs link 92,000 Head Start adults to education supports, including help enrolling in GED classes or college and training programs.
In short, we are dedicated – and I am dedicated – to giving every eligible child and their family what we call a “Home at Head Start.” If you share our commitment to these most vulnerable children, we might be able to help you, too.
Head Start can join with human service agencies in your community to build communication networks about family homelessness, elevate the needs of young children in assessment processes, and share key resources and training. All Office of Head Start resources and virtual activities are free.
For joint training, you can start with Head Start’s eight interactive learning modules Visit disclaimer page , where staff earn professional development certificates on topics such as “Understanding Family Homelessness,” “Determining a Family’s Homeless Situation,” and “Building Relationships with Families.”
This fall, join us for three webinars where local Head Start programs will share effective practices for building organizational readiness, strong partnerships, and solving service challenges as they come. Subscribe to email updates Visit disclaimer page from the Office of Head Start to find out more. You will be notified of new trainings and resources, like soon-to-be released interactive maps showing Head Start locations, school homelessness contacts, community partners, and data on families living in poverty. We have also developed special resources for the child care community.
In recent listening sessions on family homelessness organized by ACF’s Office of Regional Operations and the Family Youth Services Bureau, we were again reminded that the hardest work happens on the ground, one family at a time. We will continue to listen, and apply wisdom from the field about the needs of our most vulnerable children and their families. Children grow quickly. Join us to ensure every child has a lasting head start.
Dr. Bergeron is the director of the Office of Head Start and Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families.