Child reading
Photo via Shutterstock

CALIFORNIA — Enrollment in early childhood development programs can mitigate some of the consequences of homelessness among infants and toddlers, but only 1 out of 9 of these children are enrolled in such programs, according to a recent national report. In California, 1 out of 6 are enrolled.

An increasing number of families with infants and toddlers are homeless, with many staying in shelters, motels, temporary homes or living unsheltered, according to federal data included in the report from SchoolHouse Connection, a national homeless advocacy organization, and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan.

Researchers indicate that there is no single reason for increasing homelessness because each family’s situation differs; however, the rates have been exacerbated by the end of pandemic-era eviction protections. Infants and toddlers are most at risk of evictions, according to a report published in October by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In California during the same program year, there were over 1.6 million infants and, of those, more than 55,000, or 3.27%, experienced homelessness. Less than 10,000 of the homeless infants and toddlers were enrolled in an early childhood program, leaving tens of thousands of children without educational programming and potentially also unconnected to supportive resources to help their families find stable housing.

The report relied on census data to estimate how many children under age 3 were experiencing homelessness across all 50 states.

Homelessness rarely ends in a linear fashion, meaning that the infants and toddlers experiencing homelessness during the 2021-22 program year, whose data was used for the SchoolHouse Connection report, may well be the same young students in unstable housing today. Understanding the data may help shape how schools support students in need, particularly given that homelessness often has long-lasting effects on academic development.

“The younger and longer a child experiences homelessness, the greater the cumulative toll on their health and well-being,” the report authors wrote. “In fact, the impacts of homelessness on young children, including on children’s school readiness, can be long-lasting, even after families are stably housed.”

To estimate the prevalence of homelessness, authors used “the percentage of first graders identified as homeless in each state,” a number they indicate is conservative since advocates have long shared that homeless youth remain undercounted.

The data on Early Head Start came from the Head Start Enterprise System, while local educational agency enrollment information was gathered using Ed Data Express, a site that holds data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report further detailed which type of early childhood program the enrolled children in California were attending.

During the 2021-22 program year, there were 915 infants and toddlers enrolled in a home visiting program, 2,883 enrolled in an early Head Start program, and 5,887 who were being served by a local educational agency.

In California, the low enrollment rates translate to just 1 in 6 infants and toddlers experiencing homelessness being enrolled in a program.

While infants and toddlers may not be enrolled in a local educational agency, such as an elementary school or a county office of education program, some districts have implemented programs that help support the siblings of homeless children who are attending school.

For example, Greenfield Union School District in Monterey County has used pandemic-era federal funds to offer baby items as donations, so that families in need could be identified and supported even if their infant or toddler was not yet enrolled in a district program.

Those federal funds, however, are set to expire within the next year, leaving school staff unsure of whether they will be able to continue offering those services.

Over the last two decades, Congress has amended certain requirements to access federal early care, education and homelessness programs in order to increase the enrollment of homeless children and families. For example, homeless families have additional time to provide immunization records when enrolling in Head Start programs, which also have the flexibility to reserve slots for homeless families.

Despite these changes, homeless infants and toddlers remain overwhelmingly under-enrolled.

The report offered recommendations on homelessness prevention and eliminating the program enrollment gap, such as improving the quality of data on homeless children who are accessing child care subsidies, and targeting housing vouchers toward families with children and expectant parents who are experiencing homelessness, among other items.

This story originally appeared in EdSource. Copyright © 2024 Bay City News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Previous articleSalinas Valley News Briefs | April 3, 2024
Next articleCity of Soledad buys 4.61 acres for construction of affordable rental units


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here