Hello. I’m Kiersten Beigel, family and community partnership specialist for the Office of Head Start, and I’d like to talk with you about this lesson on enrolling children and families who are experiencing homelessness.
The Head Start Act establishes that children experiencing homelessness are automatically eligible for Head Start, regardless of family income. While this does not mean that every homeless family will ultimately receive Head Start services, it does mean that these children must be prioritized for enrollment and therefore incorporated into each program’s selection criteria and enrollment processes.
We, at the Office of Head Start, understand that programs have to balance the needs of their communities, the requirements of the Act and the ERSEA Performance Standards, along with the number of allowable enrollment slots, and make decisions accordingly. Prioritization may mean different things for different programs based on the numbers of homeless families in your communities, the number of enrollment slots available at any given time, and even various state and local licensing procedures. We recognize that in some cases, programs may be able to immediately enroll children experiencing homelessness, and in other circumstances these children may be prioritized on a waiting list. The important thing is that we continue to move forward, program by program, in meeting the intention of the Act by serving more children who are experiencing homelessness. A recent summary of the Program Information Report has shown a steady increase in the number of homeless families enrolled since 2007. So this information, in terms of reaching out to and enrolling families experiencing homelessness, tells us that we’re on the right track. And we know that we need to keep striving to serve even more children.
In Lesson 1, you spent time learning about the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness. In Lesson 2, you built upon that knowledge and had the opportunity to practice making eligibility determinations with families who present with different living circumstances. In Lesson 3, you explored how to develop a plan for identifying children who may be experiencing homelessness and you considered different outreach approaches to raising awareness about Head Start involvement with children and families in homeless situations. In Lesson 4, this lesson, we will address four important elements of the enrollment process: selection, prioritization, attendance, and transitions. Furthermore, in this lesson you will have the opportunity to analyze how enrollment strategies can support families experiencing homelessness, to reflect on enrollment strategies that support families, and ultimately to ensure that your enrollment plan supports these families.
We, at the Office of Head Start, hope this information is helpful to you. We hope that the samples and examples provided in this lesson help you think through various decisions related to the needs of vulnerable families in your communities. We also hope that this lesson is useful in helping you reprioritize or to further refine your enrollment policies and procedures. As the Office of Head Start publishes rules designed to remove barriers to enrolling homeless children, they will be folded into this and to other lessons. In the meantime, please feel free to let us know how we can make this lesson more helpful to you. Thank you.
Why This Lesson is Important
According to the Head Start Program Performance Standards (1305.2 (b)), enrollment is "...the official acceptance of a family by a Head Start program and the completion of all procedures necessary for a child and family to begin receiving services."
The Head Start Act states:
(m) The Secretary shall issue rules to establish policies and procedures to remove barriers to the enrollment and participation of homeless children in Head Start programs. Such rules shall require Head Start agencies—
(1) to implement policies and procedures to ensure that homeless children are identified and prioritized for enrollment;
(2) to allow families of homeless children to apply to, enroll in, and attend Head Start programs while required documents, such as proof of residency, immunization and other medical records, birth certificates, and other documents, are obtained within a reasonable time frame; (Sec. 640. [42 U.S.C. 9835] (m) as amended December 12, 2007)
Furthermore, the Head Start Act states:
(O) the plan of such applicant to meet the needs of homeless children, including transportation needs…; (Sec. 640. [42 U.S.C. 9835] (d)(2)(O) as amended December 12, 2007)
Enrollment is about removing barriers to access, and also about expedited services due to the impact of homelessness on child development. The high rate of mobility, coupled with wait lists, mean that homeless children and families face significant barriers to enrollment. The Head Start Demonstration Projects Serving Homeless Families showed that homeless children, compared to housed Head Start children, struggled at a higher rate with developmental issues.
It is the rare case that homelessness is the only challenge a family is experiencing. Often there are other risk factors, such as domestic violence or substance abuse. Homelessness exacerbates those challenges and all risk factors need to be examined closely. Prioritization for enrollment of families experiencing homelessness is more appropriately understood as indicating a crisis on top of a crisis, and not in isolation.
This lesson offers opportunities for staff who work with families experiencing homelessness to examine the elements of the enrollment process including how to:
Apply selection criteria and determining priority ranking;
Manage slots in your program;
Examine transportation options;
Address attendance issues; and
Plan for transitions.
From the Enrollment lesson on the navigation bar at the top, select an element of enrollment from the drop-down list. Use the tabs to move around as you wish. You may find it helpful to follow these steps:
Analyze each element of enrollment and think about what strategies you might use to support families experiencing homelessness. (Analyze Enrollment tab)
Explore the information provided and think about whether you can apply the strategies in your program. (Explore Information tab)
Ask yourself, "What are some barriers to enrollment related to families experiencing homelessness in my program and how can I address the barriers?"
Discuss the information you find in this lesson with your supervisor, colleagues, or your local homeless liaison.
Think about your current enrollment plan, how you can integrate the elements of enrollment, and how you might change your plan to take into account families experiencing homelessness. (Build Your Plan tab)