Homeless children and youth report that school is a home to them – a place where they see the same faces, sit in the same seat, and can put their hearts and minds into pursuits that ease their daily troubles. In school, students gain the skills and support needed to avoid poverty and homelessness as adults.

Early Childhood Education

Setting the Context

Homelessness jeopardizes the health, early development, and educational well-being of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children. It also creates unique barriers to enrolling and participating in early childhood care and education. This is especially troubling in light of the fact that over 50% of children living in federally-funded homeless shelters are under the age of five, and therefore at an age where early childhood education can have a significant positive impact on their development and future academic achievement.

This page provides resources relevant to early childhood education and young homeless children, including general information, Head Start, child care, and public preschool programs.


Reserving Slots in Head Start for Children Experiencing Homelessness
The new Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) released in November 2016 include a provision [§1302.15(c)] allowing Head Start and Early Head Start programs to reserve one or more enrollment slots (up to 3% of the funded enrollment) for pregnant women and children experiencing homelessness in their service areas for a period of 30 days when a vacancy occurs. This provision complements the afore-mentioned regulations of the Head Start Act and can serve as one part of a program’s broader strategy for serving children and families experiencing homelessness. This Standard does not simply refer to vacancies at the beginning of the program year, but also applies to vacancies that might occur during the year because of children leaving or “dropping” from the program.

This document is designed to support Early Head Start and Head Start programs in strategically leveraging the new provision allowing programs to reserve slots for children and families experiencing homelessness. Read on for a description of how programs can lay the foundation needed to ensure families can benefit from this new provision; a step-by-step guide for implementing the new provision; and an illustrative example of what reserving slots may look like in practice.



Head Start and Early Head Start programs are comprehensive, two generational programs that serve children from birth to age five, as well as pregnant women and their families.

Head Start has served more than 30 million children since 1965, growing from an eight-week demonstration project to include fullday/full-year services and many program options.

You can read more about Head Start here.


Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide comprehensive services to children and families.

ALL children and families experiencing homelessness age birth to five, and pregnant women, are categorically eligible and prioritized for enrollment.

Lacking documentation, like birth certificates and health records, should not be a barrier to enrollment.

Head Start programs can reserve slots specifically for children experiencing homelessness.


Find your local Head Start or Early Head Start program here.

Contact the Head Start or Early Head Start program leader to explore ways to partner.

Work together to develop a formal collaborative recruitment and enrollment plan.

Consider all the ways you can partner across systems.


Let us know about it at!


Understanding the Early Childhood Landscape of Services and Supports for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness
The early childhood field encompasses a wide variety of service types and settings, as well as funding streams and regulatory systems.  For those in the field, it can seem like a maze, or even a heavy fog.  Fortunately, with a few key questions and sources of information, one can map out the local early childhood landscape.  The “Early Care and Education Infrastructure in My Community” grid provides a list of the key programs supported by public funds and legislation, and provides space to record what the program is called locally with the name and contact information for accessing the program and services.  The accompanying “Early Education and Care Resource List” provides an annotated list of these same programs and a link to the programs’ websites with state contacts who can help identify and access local programs.  Special thanks to Grace Whitney, Connecticut’s Director of the Head Start State Collaboration Office, for creating these tools!
September 2016.

Fact Sheet: Young Children Experiencing Homelessness
This NAEHCY fact sheet provides key facts and statistics related to young children experiencing homelessness, including information on barriers to access to shelter and early childhood education programs, and risk factors associated with experiences of homelessness during a child’s early years. September 2016.

Early Childhood Homelessness: A 50 State Profile
Published by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Early Childhood Development (ODAS-ECD) at the Administration for Children and Families, this report summarizes available federal program data on young children experiencing homelessness. January 2016.

Access to Early Childhood Programs for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness: A Survey Report
This report shares findings from a national survey focused on developing an understanding of the barriers and facilitators of access to early childhood services among young children and families experiencing homelessness. February 2015.

Early Childhood Homelessness in the United States: A Congressional Briefing
At this Congressional briefing, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development provided an overview of early childhood homelessness and reviewed steps that the Administration for Children and Families has taken to remove barriers to early childhood programs. Local and State panelists described innovations in increasing homeless children’s access to quality early childhood programs, as well as the remaining challenges they face.  March 2016.


Aligning Early Childhood Programs to Serve Children Experiencing Homelessness. This document provides an overview of federal preschool, Head Start, and child care policies for children experiencing homelessness. Organized by topic area, a chart compares effective dates; funding levels; definitions; eligibility; eligibility determinations; outreach and identification; enrollment; continuity/stability; transportation; collaborations; referrals; and family engagement. This publication was written in collaboration with the Office of Early Childhood Development at the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. October 2016.


The Most Frequently Asked Questions on the Education Rights of Children in Homeless Situations: Preschool and Other Early Childhood Programs
This document provides answers to the most frequently asked questions on preschool and early childhood programs. It is an excerpt from “The Most Frequently Asked Questions on the Education Rights of Children in Homeless Situations.September 2016.

Preschool and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
This document summarizes the provisions of the McKinney-Vento Act related to preschool. September 2016.


Summary of Final Head Start Regulations Related to Homelessness
On September 6, 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced final regulations to update the Head Start Performance Standards. The final rule contains new policies on the prioritization of homeless children, as well as other procedures to facilitate the identification, enrollment, and stability of homeless children in Head Start. This document summarizes regulations related to homelessness.


Final Child Care and Development Fund Regulations Specific to Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness
This short document summarizes the final Child Care and Development Fund regulations that are specific to homelessness, including regulations on the definition of homelessness for CCDF, enrollment, prioritization, and service coordination. Updated September 2016.

Child Care Development and Block Grant and Homeless Children and Families
This one-page document summarizes the provisions on homelessness in the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. Updated December 2014.

Supporting Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness: CCDF State Guide 
Published by the Ounce of Prevention Fund and NAEHCY, this guide is intended to assist states in utilizing their Child Care and Development Fund state plan (“CCDF Plan”) as a vehicle for improving access to high-quality early care and education for children who experience homelessness. The guide provides background information on child and family homelessness, including common barriers and challenges and best practices for serving homeless families; a summary of requirements of the CCDBG Act related to homelessness; and a summary of some of the opportunities available through the state CCDF Plan to improve access. As a companion to the guide, a self-assessment tool is available that can assist states in assessing their current policies and practices and identifying options to better support vulnerable children is included. We recommend reviewing the self-assessment tool prior to reading the guide. October 2015.

Other Resources

Expanding Early Care and Education for Homeless Children
This site, hosted by the Office of Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, contains many resources, reports, and tools to help early childhood programs serve young children experiencing homelessness.

National Center for Homeless Education Preschool/Early Childhood resource webpage
The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) serves as the information and technical assistance center for the U.S. Department of Education's Education for Homeless Children and Youth program.

Illinois Preschool for All Plan for Serving McKinney-Vento Eligible Children and Families
This plan template, developed by the Illinois State Board of Education will assist school districts in establishing how they will serve McKinney-Vento eligible children and families effectively under the state-funded Preschool for All program.

For more information on NAEHCY's early childhood work, please contact Cheryl Jensen, Interim Executive Director, at or contact the association office at 866.862.2562.

NAEHCY 2018 Conference
Anaheim, CA
October 27-30, 2018
The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015
Homeless Students in ESEA Reauthorization
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