To understand early childhood homelessness, we need to look across data systems
Homelessness in early childhood can negatively affect children’s health and well-being. Because high-quality early care and education (ECE) programs can buffer some of the adverse outcomes of homelessness on a child’s development, federal ECE programs (such as child care subsidy, Head Start, and early intervention) have begun prioritizing these children for care. Unfortunately, ECE providers in the field have difficulty identifying families eligible for child care slots that are reserved for children experiencing homelessness.
There are two federal agencies that include estimates on children experiencing homelessness in their annual reports: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Both HUD and ED provide different types of supports to families experiencing homelessness; consequently, they also collect data differently. As one example, ED collects data on children living doubled up (described in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act as staying with family and friends due to economic hardship), while HUD does not, so it is difficult to compare estimates across the two agencies’ datasets. Therefore, while HUD data tell us that nearly half of children in federally funded shelters are under age 6, this number does not include families living doubled up.
Moreover, both agencies’ systems show only a segment of young children experiencing homelessness. For example, ED’s data collection only includes young children attending public preschools (1.4 million children in fall 2018) and does not capture the full population of young children (only 18 percent of the nearly 8 million 3- and 4-year-old children in the United States). Therefore, it is important for states and communities to look across data systems as they estimate the number of young children experiencing homelessness.
Note: This blog was updated on March 11, 2019.
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