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.
Excerpt from The Office of Head Start Policy Clarification (OHS–PC– I–086) states:
"...In determining whether a child is living in "substandard housing," Head Start staff must evaluate whether the child's housing situation falls short of community standards or is of lower quality than the law prescribes. Staff should consider factors such as whether there are health and safety concerns related to the housing; the number of occupants per square foot; the age(s) of the occupants; and whether the housing meets State or local building codes. Does a comparison of the housing in question with community norms and laws lead staff to conclude that it is lower than what community norms or laws require?..."
Mary Vanderwert, Collaboration Director
Minnesota Head Start Collaboration Office
Mary Vanderwert is the Director of the Minnesota Head Start State Collaboration Office. Select the links below to hear or read what Mary has to say about attendance in Head Start based on homelessness.
So keep in mind what children need and young children who are homeless need lots of support and they need good… well-trained teachers who can be available to them. They need access to services, they need their parents to be supported so that they can fulfill their role as parents -- that parents are interacting in a way that they should with children, that they're experiencing the joy of parenthood even though they're in a very stressful situation. So, number one, keep children in mind.
The other thing is parents, to keep parents in mind that parents need lots of support in this really stressful time that they are, as well as the program, focusing on the needs of their children along with all those other things they have to do. They have to get enrolled in services, they need to get housing found, they may be dealing with mental health issues or other legal issues that come along with homelessness. But to be able to remind them that they're parents too and to support them in that and create some spaces where parents can be with their children in a more normal sort of typical way that families interact. So, to support parents as well.
Another community in my state has arrangements with the shelters to pick up the preschool children. If a family with a preschooler comes into a shelter, they call the Head Start program and they're enrolled and then they pick them up each day and the children attend Head Start every day until they are stabilized, until they're into housing. And then they can stay in that center until the family feels like they're ready to move on or the child is placed in another classroom in the center.
In that program, the classroom is set up for young children who are homeless. They have spaces for children to hold their things so that they have one part of the world that they have control over and that they can keep their things in. They have fewer children in the classroom. I think they have a group size of 12 and the teachers they've assigned to that program are trained in working with children who are experiencing a lot of stress in their lives. So they go into an environment that's prepared for their very special needs. That program also has lots of relationships with the early intervention team at the public schools and mental health services. So those things are all available to those families and children very quickly as they enroll.