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?..."
Children experiencing homelessness must be prioritized for enrollment. Consider the following as you review your service area plans:
Reserve, if possible, a small percentage of enrollment opportunities for children in homeless situations
Ensure that your plans describe how you will accommodate children in homeless situations in your Head Start/Early Head Start program.
It is important to maintain full enrollment without over-enrolling, and this may result in a shortage of classroom slots in many Head Start centers, particularly those operating on a full-day, full-year basis. In order to meet this challenge of providing slots to children experiencing homelessness, consider using the following strategies:
Develop a transitional classroom with a large percentage of slots designated for homeless children;
Develop an on-site Head Start classroom at shelters or transitional housing facilities; and
Provide services to families, including medical/dental resources, food banks, etc. until there is a vacancy.
Children and families experiencing homelessness make up one category of eligible families who must be prioritized for enrollment in Early Head Start/Head Start programs. Multiple strategies should be employed with respect to enrollment, including reserving slots as one allowable strategy. Read what the Congressional Report says.
What the Congressional Report says
"It is the intent of the Conferees that Head Start agencies, in carrying out the requirements of paragraph (1), employ a variety of strategies to help remove barriers to the enrollment and participation of homeless children in Head Start, including conducting targeted recruitment of homeless children, including homelessness as a priority criterion in selection policies, reserving slots for homeless children, filling vacancies with homeless children, and other activities as determined necessary by the community-wide needs assessment. In addition to these strategies, Head Start agencies may find it appropriate, in some instances, to place a homeless child ahead of other eligible children on waiting lists in order to address their mobility and special needs. In general, when a grantee works on its community-wide needs assessment, it should ensure that it accounts for homeless families. Grantees are encouraged to engage school district homeless liaisons, private and public shelter providers, HUD Continuums of Care, and other homeless service agencies in the community-wide needs assessment."
Conference Report on H.R. 1429, Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 (House of Representatives – November 09, 2007).
Grace Whitney, Collaboration Director
Connecticut Head Start Collaboration Office
Grace Whitney is the Director of the Connecticut Head Start State Collaboration Office. Select the links below to hear or read what Grace has to say about available slots in Head Start based on homelessness.
Some of our programs have begun to create referral forms and keep forms on hand at shelter programs and other programs that are serving families experiencing homelessness so that that information is really on hand and accurate. And then have ongoing contact with those connections so that they know when there are vacancies in programs and may even be able to begin to collect some enrollment data so that when there is a vacancy, that families can be enrolled on a fairly immediate basis.
We have one program in our state that many years ago was able to establish a home-based option for just one small caseload of families. They have five families and they have about 500 center-based families that they serve. But those five home-based… that caseload is a birth-to-five caseload so they have the flexibility of serving families, and to reach out into the community to be able to connect with families until they’re able to actually enroll in a Head Start program. So it really is a way to provide a lot of family supports, to do a lot of the initial assessments, and to also, sometimes put families at ease about enrolling their child in a center-based program because if they’ve been moving an awful lot, they may have some concerns about putting a child in a location and then leaving them there for a period of time. So it’s worked very well for them.
Mary Vanderwert, Collaboration Director
Minnesota Head Start Collaboration Office
Mary Vanderwert is the director of the Minnosota Head Start State Collaboration Office. Select the links below to hear or read what Mary has to say about available slots in Head Start based on homelessness.
Family service worker and teacher spend time in shelters
There are a number of ways that Head Start programs can serve families who are experiencing homelessness. In our state, one of our programs has dedicated a family service staff who is also a teacher. She does both of those things, who spends her days in the shelters and she works with - if a family comes in with a young child birth-to-five, she immediately enrolls them in Head Start and begins working with the family. They’re enrolled as a home-based option so she does weekly home visits until there’s an opening in a center.
That program also has an arrangement with a high quality child care center so that infants and toddlers that need that care can go right into that child care program so during the day they have good care, they have good food, they have a place to sleep and then their parents can take care of business and pick them up in the afternoon. They’re able to stay there then as their family gets stabilized and until they can get them into another program. So that’s a program that’s working well in one of our communities.