Approximately 1.6 million children nationwide, or 1 in 45, will be homeless at some point within the span of a year. Forty-two percent, or approximately 672,000, of these children are under the age of six.4 Given that the vast majority of these children experience the number of young children who experience homelessness at some point from birth to age six is higher than the number who experience homelessness in a given year, homelessness temporarily,
A higher prevalence of physical disabilities, developmental delays, emotional problems, and behavioral issues;
Stress levels high enough to trigger harmful biochemical impacts on developing children
- also known as “toxic stress” responses; and
Little or no positive interaction with adults due to the tremendous challenges faced by parents experiencing homelessness.
Studies have found children who are both chronically and briefly homeless face these barriers in some capacity.
The adversity of early childhood homelessness can lead to a lifetime impact. Examples of early adversity include child abuse and neglect, exposure to violence, chaotic households, and homelessness. If unaddressed, these experiences can lead to toxic stress responses that can have damaging effects on a child’s health and well-being. The prevalence of toxic stress responses in the lives of young children experiencing homelessness is crucial due to the lifelong impact it can have on physical health and linguistic, cognitive, and socio-emotional skills.
Around the country, Head Start and Early Head Start, child care, Early Childhood State Advisory Councils, McKinney-Vento educational programs, and Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grantees are implementing interventions for young children experiencing homelessness. These programs provide promising practices that all states can build on to address the needs of children often left out of these services, such as children experiencing homelessness.
Head Start and Early Head Start
In 2007, the passage of the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act (hereafter referred to as the School Readiness Act) created specific policies for increasing Head Start and Early Head Start access for children experiencing homelessness. The School Readiness Act requires Head Start and Early Head Start programs to prioritize children experiencing homelessness for enrollment, allows all children experiencing homelessness to enroll before their required documents and immunization forms have been submitted, and mandates that Head Start and Early Head Start grantees coordinate with the local McKinney-Vento homeless education liaison. These policies helped to make the comprehensive services provided by Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which are already well-suited to address family homelessness, more accessible to these families.
McKinney-Vento) was passed in 1987 as the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. The passage of this act created the first comprehensive federal law to address homelessness. McKinney-Vento was reauthorized in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, Under McKinney-Vento, each state educational agency is required to ensure that children who are experiencing homelessness have equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children in the state. It should be noted that the Department of Education has a more expansive definition of homelessness than the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).