Early Care and Education Supports for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness

Publication Date: May 15, 2020


The experience of homelessness is a known risk factor for young children’s development and well-being. High-quality early care and education may help children overcome some of the negative factors associated with homelessness. However, states, communities and early care and education providers face many barriers to ensuring access to care for these young children, including challenges with identifying children who are or are at risk of experiencing homelessness.

This two-brief series provides important information about access to care for young children and their families who are experiencing homelessness.


These resources detail important information about access to early care and education for families with young children experiencing homelessness.

The findings from these resources can be used to inform states’ decisions on how to support access to early care and education for families experiencing homelessness, as well as potential opportunities for strengthening how states and communities collect and analyze data to estimate rates of early childhood homelessness and identify young children experiencing homelessness.

Key Findings and Highlights

Facilitating Access to Early Care and Education for Children Experiencing Homelessness

  • High rates of mobility among families experiencing homelessness make it difficult for them to access high-quality ECE.
  • There is a need to strengthen relationships between early care and education and housing programs; most respondents indicated that any relationships between housing programs and early care and education programs were informal.
  • Agencies and organizations offer a variety of supports for accessing ECE to families experiencing homelessness; these range from improving Early Head Start/Head Start and McKinney-Vento policy implementation to providing financial assistance to cover the cost of transportation or care.
  • Professional development is needed for both the early care and education system and the housing system as they work to support the early learning needs of children experiencing homelessness.

Leveraging Data to Support Children Experiencing Homelessness

  • States and communities all use a variety of approaches to collect information to identify children and families experiencing homelessness.
  • Although states and communities have a number of promising practices for using data collected from families to determine their housing status, several respondents reported concerns about the ability of the data collected to capture all families experiencing homelessness.
  • There are a number of challenges and successes in using data to estimate the rates of homelessness.
  • It is important to improve data and data sharing practices to increase collaboration between early care and education, education, and housing.
  • Housing providers and subsidy office staff from all states and communities discussed concerns regarding the differences between the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) and The Department of Education’s (ED) definitions of homelessness.


The two briefs in this collection rely on key informant interviews completed in the winter of 2018. Key informants included child care subsidy staff, housing administrators, Head Start state collaborators, and others across the housing and education fields.


Facilitating Access to Early Care and Education for Children Experiencing Homelessness

  • As the respondents reported, strengthening the relationship between the housing and ECE systems may be an important step in facilitating ECE access for families experiencing homelessness. Previous literature discusses the importance of developing shared expertise across systems, which can allow for better service provisions to children experiencing homelessness.[i] In fact, respondents indicated that a first step is to provide professional development opportunities to both ECE and housing providers on the importance of ECE for young children experiencing homelessness.
  • Respondents also highlighted the importance of implementing policies that support ECE access for families experiencing homelessness. As the respondents indicated, incorporating provisions that support these families in CCDF state plans is an important first step in ensuring access to child care.
  • In addition, the full implementation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, as amended by ESSA, for all children ages birth to 5 experiencing homelessness (see Appendix A for more information) may be a step toward better access. ESSA provides guidance around the provision of early care and education services for children enrolled in public preschool programs. However, the same rights are not extended to children enrolled in privately funded programs.[ii] This is an important consideration given the lack of services for children ages birth to 5 and the challenges parents face when trying to access ECE.[iii]
  • Similarly, the revised Head Start standards also provide families experiencing homelessness with more flexibility to meet certain enrollment requirements, including several options for providing a letter of residency, and support in providing proof of age, health records, and immunizations. This flexibility and support provided by revisions to the Head Start standards can increase the number of homeless families enrolled in Head Start programs.

Leveraging Data to Support Children Experiencing Homelessness

  • Subsidy and education systems should consider creating a systematic approach to collecting information on housing status of children ages birth to 5. For example, often this information is only collected upon enrollment into services. However, since housing instability can occur at any time, it may not be captured if this data is only collected annually. In addition, agencies should be sensitive toward families and mindful of their concerns when asking about housing status.
  • Data sharing may be one way for states and communities to enhance their outreach efforts for families experiencing homelessness. Sharing data may help systems better understand the service utilization and needs of the families that they support.

[i] Perlman, S. M., Shaw, S. H., Kieffer, C. H., Whitney, G. C., & Bires, C. (2017). Access to early childhood services for young children experiencing homelessness. SpringerBriefs in Psychology, 65-82.

[ii] Department of Education. (2017). Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Washington, D.C.

[iii] Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. (2014). Meeting the child care needs of homeless families: How do states stack up? Washington, D.C.

Current as of: