Brighter Days for Our Youngest: New Preschool, Head Start, and Child Care Policies
By Barbara Duffield, Director of Policy and Programs
Infants, toddlers and preschoolers who experience homelessness are at grave risk of developmental delays and other problems due to a variety of factors, such as a lack of prenatal and early health care, crowded and unsanitary living conditions, poor nutrition, and the trauma caused by severe poverty and unstable living arrangements. Tragically, homelessness also creates unique barriers to enrolling and participating in early childhood programs, which are known to mitigate the harmful life long effects of homelessness on education, health and well-being.
Within the next two months, new federal rules for preschool, Head Start, and child care will go into effect. These rules include many new policies designed to remove barriers and better support young children experiencing homelessness. This convergence and alignment of federal policies represent a critical opportunity for state and local action to better serve our youngest children experiencing homelessness.
Keep reading to learn about these many changes, and the new tools we’ve developed to help you make the most of them.
What’s Happening, by When
Preschool: Among the most significant amendments to the McKinney-Vento Act is the extension of school stability and transportation rights to homeless children attending preschool programs administered by local educational agencies (LEAs). While school stability is important for all children experiencing homelessness, it takes on special significance in the context of preschool programs. In most states, preschool is not universal or compulsory; therefore, preschool may not be available in the area into which homelessness forces children to move. For many young children experiencing homelessness, the ability to stay in the same preschool will be the only way to access any early childhood education at all. And without early education, they will face even steeper hurdles to learning in elementary school and beyond. The amendments to the McKinney-Vento Act went into effect on October 1, 2016, (except the removal of the definition of “awaiting foster care” from the definition of homelessness, which goes into effect for most states on December 10, 2016). See this excerpt from our recently published FAQ for more information, as well as this summary of the McKinney-Vento Act’s preschool provisions.
Early Intervention: Another important amendment to the McKinney-Vento Act is the requirement for school district homeless liaisons to ensure that families and children experiencing homelessness have access to and receive services for which they are eligible, including Head Start/Early Head Start, preschool programs administered by the LEA, and early intervention services through Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The inclusion of early intervention services in the McKinney-Vento Act is new, and extremely important. IDEA Part C serves infants and toddlers through age 2 with developmental delays, or who have diagnosed physical or mental conditions with high probabilities of resulting in developmental delays. In light of the high rate of developmental delays among homeless children, and their risk for delays, it is critical that liaisons learn who administers early intervention services in their community, and develop protocols for ensuring that homeless families with eligible children receive these services. For more information, see http://idea.ed.gov/part-c/search/new
Head Start: Head Start programs offer comprehensive services to young children, including screenings, health, dental, and mental health services. They actively engage parents to promote children’s learning and development. Head Start programs thus are a perfect match for assisting families experiencing homelessness. In early September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced final regulations to update the Head Start Program Performance Standards. The regulations contain new policies on the prioritization and expedited enrollment and attendance of homeless children, as well as other procedures to facilitate the identification and stability of homeless children in Head Start and Early Head Start. The regulations specific to homelessness go into effect on November 7, 2016. See this summary of Head Start regulations on homelessness.
Child Care: Homelessness presents barriers to child care over and above what other poor families face. Compared to poor housed parents, homeless parents are less likely to receive child care subsidies; they are more likely to rely on informal child care arrangements and to report quitting jobs or school due to problems with child care. In late September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced final regulations to implement the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program. These regulations require States to prioritize homeless children for child care services; to establish grace periods for enrollment that give homeless families a reasonable time to comply with immunization and other health and safety requirements; and to use funds on enrollment, outreach, and training on the identification and enrollment of children experiencing homelessness. These regulations go into effect on November 29, 2016. See this summary of CCDF regulations on homelessness.
Pulling it All Together: Strategies and Tools
It is not a coincidence that these new policies are so closely aligned. The new rules bring to fruition nearly a decade of NAEHCY’s successful legislative and administrative advocacy, based on the experiences and insights of educators, service providers, and advocates. From the definition of homelessness, to the requirements for identification, enrollment, prioritization, stability, and coordination of services, the policies offer tremendous potential to change the trajectory of young lives.
However, in order for these new rules to reach the children and families for whom they were intended, action is needed. Educators, service providers, and advocates must:
- Make a concerted effort to understand the new rules, and to help families and community partners understand the new rules.
- Review and revise policies and practices to conform to the new requirements.
- Share data on the numbers and needs of young children experiencing homelessness with early childhood programs.
- Develop collaborative relationships among early care, education, housing, and homeless services.
- Help colleagues and community partners understand the importance of early childhood education for young children experiencing homelessness.
To this end, NAEHCY is offering two new tools:
Aligning Early Childhood Programs to Serve Children Experiencing Homelessness. A chart comparing preschool, Head Start, and child care policies for children experiencing homelessness. Organized by topic area, this 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.
The Early Care and Education Infrastructure in My Community Grid and Resource List. This grid provides a list of key public early childhood programs and provides space for users to record information about local programs, including the name and contact information for accessing the program and services. The Resource List contains a comprehensive, annotated list of public early childhood programs and links 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 the Grid and Resource List!
For more information, please contact Barbara Duffield, Director of Policy and Programs, at email@example.com.