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Working Together to Connect Pregnant and Parenting Youth Experiencing Homelessness with Early Head Start

By Elizabeth Darling, commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families

Pregnant moms, babies, and toddlers without permanent homes have unique needs. They often face barriers to early childhood and child care programs. Young parents are three times more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. Infancy is the period of life when a child is at greatest risk of living in a homeless shelter. Homelessness can contribute to developmental, health, social and emotional, behavioral, and learning challenges. ACF works to ensure that all children have a healthy foundation in life. We know that high-quality early childhood education can enrich children's lives and increases their learning capacity well into adulthood.

In 2020, ACF's Family and Youth Services Bureau and the Office of Head Start are promoting collaboration between Runaway and Homeless Youth and Early Head Start grantees through planned communications to program directors of both community-based programs. Runaway and Homeless Youth grantees serve youth in Transitional Living Programs and Maternity Group Homes. Pregnant and parenting youth and their young children experiencing homelessness often need extra supportive services to enroll in and remain in Head Start programs.

Early Head Start programs are well positioned to help these young families during pregnancy, and very early in the life of their child. Early Head Start programs focus on teen parents and children experiencing homelessness through targeted outreach and facilitated enrollment. Early Head Start can have a positive impact on the lives of children by supporting healthy child development, success in school, family self-sufficiency, and parental engagement with their child’s development including language and learning skills and social-emotional development.

As part of this collaboration, the Family and Youth Services Bureau and the Office of Head Start will rely on our National Training and Technical Assistance Centers to share training and resource material related to early childhood development and other supportive services for young parents and families experiencing homelessness.

We invite grantees to share their partnership stories with us. Grantees work hard to provide safe, stable housing and key supportive services young families with children need. We want to highlight the positive impact you're making on two generations – both parents and their children. ACF is grateful for that dedication and commitment to serve young families and children who are homeless. By working across programs, these families will have more opportunities to realize their dreams for a brighter future. Stay tuned for stories about partnerships between runaway and homeless youth programs and Early Head Start!

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