Hello. I’m Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, Director of the Office of Head Start, and I’d like to talk with you about this lesson on determining eligibility for families experiencing homelessness.
All children and families who struggle with the effects of poverty need our services. Children from families living in poverty experience many of the same stressors as children who are experiencing homelessness. But research also shows that children experiencing homelessness may have particular vulnerabilities related to their health, mental health, and development. That is why the comprehensive services Head Start provides are vitally important to these children. It is also why it is imperative that these children have access to Head Start and Early Head Start, whenever possible.
The Head Start Improving School Readiness Act of 2007 makes clear that children who are experiencing homelessness are automatically eligible for Head Start and should be prioritized for enrollment. In order to do this effectively, programs must include homelessness data on their community assessments. Programs must develop partnerships with homelessness service providers and other social service providers in order to recruit homeless families. And grantees must make sure that program selection systems include homeless children as high priority.
In Lesson 1, you spent time learning about the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness. In this lesson, Lesson 2, you will build upon that knowledge and have the opportunity to practice making eligibility determinations with families who are living in different circumstances.
You will learn, through interactive experience, how eligibility determinations for homeless children are made on a case-by-case basis.
You will have opportunities to use the McKinney-Vento definition as the basis for understanding what you need to know about a family’s situation in order to make an eligibility determination.
You will explore different ways to be sensitive to families’ privacy and feelings about their situation by using good conversational and questioning techniques.
We, at the Office of Head Start, hope this information is helpful to you. Take your time with these lessons so that you really understand how to apply the homelessness definition to your work. And we hope that you use all of the homelessness lessons as they become available. Share them with your fellow staff, and let us know how we can make them better and more informative.
Most importantly, remember that serving homeless children is crucial to our mission of serving the neediest children in our country. Together, let’s make Head Start and Early Head Start a reality for as many homeless families as we can.
Why This Lesson is Important
Children ages birth to five and enrolled pregnant women who are experiencing homelessness are automatically eligible for Head Start (42 U.S.C. 9840(a)(1)(B)). The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act defines homeless children and youths as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” (42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq.) If a living arrangement does not meet all three criteria (fixed, regular, and adequate), it is considered a homeless situation. Because the circumstances of homelessness vary with each family’s situation, the decision process for determining the extent to which the family experiences are represented by the homelessness definition in the McKinney-Vento Act is determined on a case-by-case basis.
The following guidelines will help you to determine eligibility based on a family’s experience of homelessness:
Determine eligibility on a case-by-case basis by examining the living arrangement of each family.
Use good questioning techniques to get as much information as possible, while making sure parents feel comfortable.
Use respect and sensitivity to gather and analyze the facts to verify whether a child’s experiences are represented by the homelessness definition in the McKinney-Vento Act.
Discuss each situation with your supervisor in order to make the best determination.
Excerpt from The Office of Head Start Policy Clarification OHS–PC–I–086 states:
“…Head Start staff must gather and analyze information from the family and possibly other sources in order to make the appropriate determination of eligibility. This must be done on a case by case basis because the circumstances of homelessness vary with each family’s situation…”
According to section 725(2) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11434a(2)), the term “homeless children and youths”—
(A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence …; and
(i) children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;
(ii) children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
(iii) children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
(iv) migratory children who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).
Children and youth are considered homeless if they fit both part A and any one of the subparts of part B of the definition above.
From the Eligibility lesson on the navigation bar at the top, select a family from the drop-down list. Use the tabs to move around as you wish. You may find it helpful to follow these steps:
Read about the family. (Meet the Family tab)
Select questions to discuss with the family. (Meet the Family tab)
Explore the information provided and think about how it relates to the family. (Explore Information tab)
Ask yourself, "Am I asking questions in a sensitive manner to gather the information I need?"
Ask yourself, "Do I have enough information to determine eligibility based on homelessness?"
Discuss the information you learn from speaking with families in this lesson with your supervisor, colleagues, or others. NOTE: In real-life situations, you must maintain confidentiality.
Decide if the family is eligible for Head Start services, using the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness, and make a recommendation. (Recommendation tab)