Report: Best Practices in Early Care and Education for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness

Report By: Prepared for Building Early Links for Learning (BELL) by William Curran-Groome, Research & Evaluation Group, Public Health Management Corporation, Philadelphia, PA

Published: March 2017

Executive Summary:

In late 2016, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), and Education (ED) published a joint policy statement concerning the
needs of young children experiencing and at risk of homelessness and their families.[5] The
statement summarizes the large and growing body of evidence quantifying the negative
impacts homelessness and unstable housing have on young children’s development, and
suggests potential strategies for better serving these children and their families.

Building on this and other recent work relating to young children experiencing homelessness,
this report explores organizations’, municipalities’, and states’ practices and policies for
addressing the educational and related needs of young children experiencing homelessness and
their families. This paper also considers the scope of early childhood homelessness in
Philadelphia, and the landscape of existing housing and educational services available to young
children experiencing homelessness, with the goal of providing organizational leaders,
advocates, and policymakers in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth with new
approaches to better serve the needs of some of our most disadvantaged children and their

Interviews and a review of the literature highlighted many promising and novel strategies. At
the organizational level, providers discussed the importance of memoranda of understanding
(MOUs) and strong interpersonal relationships between staff to creating long-lasting
collaborations and productive cross-training sessions. At the systems level, policies for
prioritizing homeless children for services featured prominently; interviewees also discussed
the importance of hiring dedicated staff to facilitate integration and to ensure that children and
their families receive comprehensive supports and can make smooth transitions between
programs. At the municipal level, cities are pioneering integrated referral and tracking systems
and are conducting outreach and education around homelessness to underidentified
populations, while working with relevant staff to increase identification rates. At the state level,
the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) has numerous avenues through
which it can better connect young children experiencing homelessness to high-quality early
care and education (ECE), including modifying guidelines for Child Care and Development Fund
(CCDF) subsidies to prioritize and better serve children experiencing homelessness; and revising
eligibility criteria for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services to make children
experiencing homelessness categorically eligible. Examples from Oregon, which has created
regional hubs to integrate services relevant to homeless families with young children, and
Massachusetts, which has emphasized building formal and personal relationships between ECE
and homeless-serving organizations and staff, may also inform future state-level work in

Although federal legislation, funding requirements, and regulation create much of the
framework for state- and local-level work relating to early childhood homelessness, there exist
significant opportunities for homeless-serving and ECE organizations in Philadelphia, the School
District of Philadelphia (SDP) and the City of Philadelphia government, state agencies, and the
Pennsylvania legislature to institute new policies and develop and expand new programs in
order to better serve young children experiencing homelessness.

To access the full report, click here. 

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