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?..."
Have staff available to help parents fill out the forms.
Have forms in the parent’s primary language or a staff member available to translate.
If a family is not able to come to your location, then meet the family where it's convenient for them.
Develop affidavits to serve as alternative forms of documentation/records normally required for enrollment, such as proof of guardianship. Such forms should be crafted carefully so that they do not create further barriers or delay enrollment.
Enroll children before obtaining documentation/records
Enroll children in homeless situations immediately.
You can enroll children based on the family’s description of its living situation (if that description meets the definition).
You can enroll children even if they lack documentation/records normally required for enrollment, such as medical or immunization records, birth certificate, proof of guardianship, or other documents.
A Head Start or Early Head Start program may be the only opportunity for these children to benefit from a stable environment, uninterrupted adult attention, peer relations, stimulation, and reliable meals. Immediate enrollment provides them with needed stability while documents/records are gathered.
Provide immediate access to services and obtain required verification of circumstances and collection of documents within a reasonable time frame.
Accept previous school records directly from families.
Link the family with community services.
Train staff, secretaries, family service workers, directors, and others on the legal requirements for enrollment.
Locate or obtain the required documents/records for enrollment. Examples include:
Proof of guardianship
School physical/health record(s)
Proof of identity
If a child was in a program previously, contact that program to obtain records and information. In the meantime, enroll the child in your program.
Get as much information from the family as possible and assist the family in navigating through the bureaucracy to obtain the necessary documentation/records including medical and immunization records, and birth certificates.
Establish relationships with health care agencies to provide free physical examinations and immunizations for children experiencing homelessness on an expedited basis, and accompany parents and children to their service appointments. It is often difficult for parents to obtain medical records because of the stresses and disorganization caused by being in a homelessness situation.
Begin providing services to parents immediately, even before you have the records and even before a child’s enrollment in the classroom, by making home visits to families and offering housing-related and/or crisis intervention services.
Enroll children in classes as soon as they have immunization records and establish a 30-day grace period for obtaining other documentation/records.
Expedite the process of getting the paper work together or of obtaining medical services.
Engage your school district homeless liaisons, private and public shelter providers, HUD Continuum of Care, and other homeless service agencies in your service area to assist in the verification and documentation process.
For those children whose records might be damaged, destroyed, or otherwise unavailable, begin to build new records immediately based on information gathered from families, local district or state-level student databases, and any other reliable sources of student information.
Determine whom to contact for verification purposes
Ensure that your verification activities do not increase the risk that families may be evicted or suffer other resulting adverse consequences.
Ensure that residency verification processes do not jeopardize a family’s living situation.
Ensure medical exams and follow-up, including obtaining the resulting records
Develop partnerships with healthcare providers to provide free exams and records to families at no cost.
Establish school-based immunization clinics or other opportunities for on-site immunizations or collaborate with community-based organizations or public agencies.
Establish immunization databases, school-based immunization clinics, or mobile health units.
Mary Vanderwert, Collaboration Director
Minnesota Head Start Collaboration Office
Mary Vanderwert is the Director of the Minnosota Head Start State Collaboration Office. Select the link below to hear or read what Mary has to say about obtaining documentation/records in Head Start based on homelessness.
They don't necessarily need to have all the documentation in a Head Start program before a family starts because they may not have it. So, to take down the barriers that will be in place for families to enroll. So, think about the realities of being homeless in terms of the regulations and the kind of procedures that they require before families are enrolled in their programs.
Khari Garvin, Collaboration Director
North Carolina Head Start Collaboration Office
Khari Garvin is the Director of the North Carolina Head Start State Collaboration Office. Select the link below to hear or read what Khari has to say about obtaining documentation/records in Head Start based on homelessness.
I think it's important for grantees to understand the requirements that are associated with enrolling homeless families. That is, to serve homeless families immediately and worry about collecting paperwork later, and that's a little bit of a paradigm shift for us in Head Start.