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?..."
After you examine each element of your enrollment plan, integrate all the elements to ensure that you have a cohesive plan and that it supports families experiencing homelessness. For a summary of each element of the enrollment process, select below.
Selection/prioritization involves assigning criteria or points to each eligible child to create a priority for enrollment in a program. Each program needs a process for selection that ensures that families experiencing homelessness receive a priority rating. Consider the following areas regarding selection:
Develop a selection system;
Create a form; and
For strategies and more information on developing and implementing a selection/prioritization process, review the Selection/Prioritization section of this lesson.
Each program needs a process to ensure that families experiencing homelessness receive services. It means providing immediate support and services to a family even if there are no currently available classroom slots. To meet the challenge of providing space to children experiencing homelessness, consider the following strategies:
Reserve a small percentage of enrollment opportunities;
Create a transitional classroom;
Develop an on-site Head Start classroom at shelters or transitional housing facilities; and
Provide services to families while awaiting a vacancy.
For more information on available slots, review the Available Slots section of this lesson.
Documentation/records include items such as birth certificates, school records, and immunization records. Children in homeless situations can be enrolled immediately, even before obtaining documentation and records. Each program needs a process for obtaining documentation/records that addresses the transient nature of families experiencing homelessness. The process needs to ensure that the families receive the support and services they need so their children can immediately attend school on a regular basis. Develop strategies for obtaining records:
Have parents complete the required forms;
Enroll children before obtaining documentation/records;
Locate or obtain the required documents/records;
Determine whom to contact for verification purposes; and
Ensure medical exams and follow-up
For strategies and more information on obtaining records, review the Documentation/Records section of this lesson.
Transportation issues sometimes arise once a child is enrolled. Each program needs a process for examining and implementing transportation options that ensure that children experiencing homelessness can attend school on a regular basis. Consider the following transportation issues:
Coordinating transportation; and
Providing adequate transportation services.
For strategies and more information on transportation issues, review the Transportation section of this lesson.
Attendance includes issues that arise once a child is enrolled, such as tracking whether a child is present in the program on a regular basis, following up when a child is absent, and paying special attention to the classroom environment. Each program needs a process for attendance that ensures that families experiencing homelessness receive the immediate support and services they need so their children can and will attend Head Start or Early Head Start on a regular basis and can be successfully integrated into the class. Develop strategies regarding attendance including the following:
Establish a record-keeping system;
Integrate the child into the classroom;
Integrate the family into the program; and
Address the high mobility of families and the transient nature of homelessness.
For strategies and more information on attendance issues, review the Attendance section of this lesson.
Transitions allow for continuity of services when a child moves from one program or location to another. Each program needs a process for transitions that ensures that families experiencing homelessness receive the support and services they need for smooth transitions. Consider the following areas regarding transitions:
Provide continuity of services;
Support children and families;
Address the high mobility of families and the transient nature of homelessness; and
Encourage the use of a transition card.
For strategies and more information on transitions, review the Transitions section of this lesson.
A suburban program in Los Angeles gives additional points to those automatically eligible for Head Start services
Norwalk/LaMirada is careful to make sure that the automatically eligible families, such as those with experiences that are represented by the homelessness definition in the McKinney-Vento Act, have the highest rating points. Most of the priority rankings items are one to five points and the automatically eligible ones (McKinney-Vento, TANF recipient, foster child) are all at 20 points. So, as they do priority ranking, families in homeless situations mathematically come up higher on the waiting list.
An urban program in Indiana uses a checklist based on the definition of homelessness in the McKinney-Vento Act
Indianapolis, Indiana begins asking questions about homelessness in the pre-enrollment application. To help them identify families that may be experiencing homelessness, they use a homeless checklist based on the definition of homelessness in the McKinney-Vento Act. For example, there are items on the checklist that relate to whether a family is experiencing any type of economic hardship, whether they are doubling up with a relative or friend, and whether they are living in a temporary housing situation such as a shelter or campground.
A rural program in Michigan works with families experiencing homelessness who are on the waiting list
The Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency (NEMCSA) Head Start program makes serving homeless families a high priority and gives a family experiencing homelessness 95 points as an additional risk factor on their priority selection criteria. Families/children are then placed at the top of the priority/waiting list for placement into programs. If the program year has already started and there are no openings at that time, then the family/child remains on the waiting list but support is still provided. For example, while one family was waiting for placement into the program, the family service worker maintained contact with the parent to try to obtain housing and referred the family to any available services. This included notifying the family of events in the community that were free or of little cost including family events, parent training, and play groups. Another family had been in a shelter for several months and was eligible for McKinney-Vento services that included funding opportunities for transportation. The parent was not willing to use public transportation so it was difficult to help them get the child to and from the program site. Instead, the family was offered the home-based program and the teacher made several visits with the family in the shelter.
A suburban program in Los Angeles refers families experiencing homelessness to other programs rather than having them remain on a waiting list
Norwalk/LaMirada does not let a child sit on a waiting list if they know the child is experiencing homelessness. Families in homeless situations are the top priority for the first opening but at the same time Norwalk/LaMirada refers them to any other program they know about that has vacancies. In LA County, there is a county-wide waiting list system which is called the LA Centralized Eligibility List. All families go into that and so any other agency that's looking for children can go to the list and contact that family. It's for any state-funded childcare program. Any agency that puts their families on it is required to use it. It could be after-school care for an elementary child, it could be infant/toddler, and it could be preschool.
Cheaha partners with daycare centers. If there is no space in one of their 16 Head Start centers, they place the child in a daycare center. The child remains on the Head Start waiting list and they notify the parents when space becomes available. Several of the centers are blended (daycare and Head Start). For example, if there are 200 children in the center, then maybe 100 are Head Start and 100 are daycare. The services are blended so if there isn't a slot at that particular moment in Head Start, the child can go in daycare until a slot becomes available.
An urban program in Ohio works with parents to obtain documentation/records
An urban program in Ohio tells families in homeless situations not to worry about records such as birth certificates. They work with the families to get that information. The only requirement they have, because of the health issues, is the documentation of immunizations. Even without the documentation of the immunizations, they give the child a seat but do not allow the child to actually sit there until they receive the immunization records. One of the case manager's responsibilities is to get those records as quickly as possible so the child can attend class.
When the child transitions to kindergarten, the Head Start program makes sure the immunizations are current and gives the parent copies, upon request.
A rural program in Michigan uses various ideas for meeting transportation needs
NE Michigan is a rural area and the families are quite spread out geographically. NEMCSA Head Start attempts to set up group bus stops as near in proximity as they can to the family that doesn't have transportation so they can be as close to door-to-door as possible. Sometimes that means they might have to cluster children in one area in order to allow enough time on the bus run to get a little closer to where the non-transportation family is. Licensing only allows children to be on the bus one hour and that's very challenging in a rural area. Placement in the program's morning or afternoon session may sometimes be determined by the location of the family home and proximity to the pickup point for the bus. They try to adjust transportation schedules if it's possible or find other resources with different organizations. Networking between parents, such as ride-sharing, is encouraged by the program to aid the families with transportation issues.
To reduce the need for transportation, a suburban program in Los Angeles puts new programs into areas that don't have service now
Norwalk/LaMirada is a very wide district and many families do not have transportation. They have six bus stops where they pick up children for their center-based program at their two main sites. They also have bus tokens that they provide to parents for program participation, to take the children to the doctor or dentist, for training, and to volunteer in the classroom. In addition, as Norwalk/LaMirada expands, they put their programs into the areas of the community where they don't have service now. In the last 10 years, they've grown from three sites to nine. They are putting service into areas that are underserved and it reduces the need to put children on a bus to go to the main site.
A rural program in Alabama has centers in public housing and also has inexpensive bus service
Cheaha has two of their centers in the middle of public housing so there are no transportation problems. Families can just walk with their children to the apartment. In addition, they have a city bus for $1 and passengers can ride it anywhere. Some people use it to take their children to and from Head Start.
A suburban program in Los Angeles continues providing services even if the family experiencing homelessness moves
Norwalk/LaMirada works with families to make sure they know that as long as they were living in the area when they started, then even if they have to shift their residence quickly because of their homelessness issue, their children can continue where they are if it works out for them. One time Norwalk/LaMirada had a family where there was a domestic violence issue and the mother left but she brought her children every single day. Finally after two months, she came back to the area. Norwalk/LaMirada doesn't want to make the situation more precarious so they reassure families not to worry, that the child can stay there, if it works for the family. But they do encourage the family to go locally. Norwalk/LaMirada tells the family, "If it works for you to have your child here, we'll continue to serve your child."
An urban program in Indiana applies the Reggio Emilia concept to its classrooms
Indianapolis, Indiana uses the Reggio Emilia approach in their classrooms to give a sense of a home environment. Although it was originally implemented in the classrooms in general, it was found to work particularly well with children in homeless situations. It allows the children to have stability within the classroom, to work with objects and equipment and supplies that are typically found in a home, and to experience what a home is like.
A rural program in Michigan works closely with the School Success Worker in the public school
NEMCSA works collaboratively with a School Success Worker who is located in elementary school buildings in the districts that participate in the School Success program. The two programs work closely with the families of Head Start children who are transitioning into Kindergarten and may have some challenges. It's a perfect opportunity for Head Start staff to make the School Success Worker aware of a family that is already eligible for McKinney-Vento services. This allows for a smooth transition into the "regular" school system.
The School Success Worker position was developed several years ago out of a need for support workers to be in the elementary schools when funding was not available for traditional counselors in the buildings. This is a way to have some early intervention in the elementary schools. The program is supported by joint funding that comes from different sources, including the schools, and the School Success Worker works collaboratively with NEMCSA programming.
A suburban program in Los Angeles has a strong partnership with the district McKinney-Vento office
Norwalk/LaMirada has a strong partnership with the district McKinney-Vento office and the McKinney-Vento Intervention Liaison. With permission of the family, they provide the family's name to that office. If their child transitions to kindergarten and beyond, they will automatically be able to access those services that are already set up at the kindergarten level and beyond. The services can include everything from additional tutoring to backpacks full of school supplies at the beginning of the year.
An urban program in Ohio addresses difficult transition and turnover issues of families experiencing homelessness
One of the biggest problems for the Child Development Council of Franklin County (CDCFC) Head Start in Columbus Ohio is the transition and turnover. Some of the children at the YWCA, which is a homeless shelter in a state-of-the-art building, are only there a handful of days. Children can stay there for 90 days but last year only one child was there longer than 45 days. A lot of transition means families are getting employment and homes, but it's a challenge as far as screenings and things like that. The case manager tries to follow the children and if they are in the vicinity of one of the other centers they try, if there's a space, to enroll the child in that center so they can continue. If a family moves to an area that's within one of their other centers, in the service area that they serve, then they try to hook the family up with one of their other centers – a partnership center or an in-house center.
Once children leave the YWCA, they go to Tier 2 housing. CDCFC has a partnership with the Homeless Families Foundation and CDCFC provides the families with a bus so they can continue Head Start services. The bus service is provided only for full day services, so families on ½ day services can get help from Project Connect. Project Connect also houses a homeless liaison who helps the children transition to the public school system.
An urban program in Ohio describes its enrollment process for families in a homeless situation
The Child Development Council of Franklin County (CDCFC) Head Start in Columbus Ohio has a one-stop enrollment process. First the families experiencing homelessness enroll at the YWCA, which is a homeless shelter for all of Franklin County. At the building, they initiate services for any family that's homeless. It's a state-of-the-art building. It has some quads in it where families can stay for a certain amount of time. If the quads are full, they never turn a family away as long as there's a child involved. They have agreements with a couple of hotels. They have a Safe and Sound preschool in the program. CDCFC contracts with the YWCA for ten slots so ten of the homeless children are identified as Head Start children. There are also four additional slots for Early Head Start. If the ten slots are full, there are still ten additional slots there for preschool children. There are actually 20 children in the classroom and CDCFC contracts for half of the slots. If the ten slots are full, they could still be in the preschool program there and because they're in the same classroom with the same teachers all the children will still get development screenings and the nurse even tries to do the vision and hearing with the children as well. In addition to all the services that are provided to the family and the child in the center, they also receive the full array of Head Start services. They have a case manager, an education specialist, and a health associate assigned to work with them. The facility itself and the staff provide meals, a place to stay, library and computers, and transportation. The goal is to help the families find employment and a place to live.
If they don't get housing there, then they go to Tier 2 housing. If there is a spot available at the Safe and Sound at the YWCA, then they enroll there. This is how the CDCFC Head Start case manager liaison for homelessness describes the process after they leave the YWCA:
Once they transfer, then the case manager at the YWCA, notifies me or another case manager that they're transitioning out of the YWCA. If they're coming to one of the centers that we partner with, then we'll continue the services. So, for example, if they're going to the Homeless Family Foundation, once they get to the Homeless Family Foundation, I meet with their case manager because they have to sign a Coordination of Services Release form, so that their case manager at the homeless shelter and I can coordinate services. Once we sign that agreement, we transfer the child out of the YWCA into the center that partners with the Homeless Family Foundation. Once they get here, we help them with their immediate goals which are food, clothing, and shelter. We meet with the case manager at the Homeless Family Foundation once a month to discuss the family's progress. Also, we offer transportation to families from the Homeless Family Foundation. They pick them up there and they drop them off there.