Helping Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness

October 16, 2017

Over 9,000 children under six experience homelessness in Kansas and over one million nationwide. These children face an increased risk of experiencing developmental delays, physical health and social-emotional problems. Early childhood, specifically infancy, is the stage of life correlated with the highest risk of residing in a homeless shelter. High quality early childhood education, including trusting relationships with early childhood professional can buffer children and families from the challenges associated with homelessness by supporting children’s learning and development in secure, stable, and nurturing environments. Overwhelmed parents and caregivers can more easily focus on meeting their goals toward stable housing, employment/training, and other services if they know their child is safe and receiving quality care. This blog post provides guidance on identifying families of young children in your community who may be experiencing homelessness and points to valuable local and federal resources.

Identifying Families of Young Children Experiencing Homelessness

If you are wondering whether a family you know who is struggling with housing may be eligible to receive support for families experiencing homelessness, review the definition of homelessness established in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (“the Act”). It defines the term “homeless children and youths” as lacking “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence…” and provides specific circumstances as examples such as, sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, camp grounds “due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations,” children living in emergency or transitional shelters, abandoned in hospitals, a primary nighttime residence that is not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings and more.

Early childhood programs supported by the Child Care and Development Fund Final Rule and the Head Start Program Performance Standards are required to use this definition to identify and prioritize children experiencing homelessness and to provide an allotted grace period to submit immunization and other health and safety records so that children may receive child care services right away.

Local and Federal Resources

You may receive additional assistance determining whether a child’s circumstances meet the definition of homelessness or other related questions by contacting the National Center for Homeless Education Helpline at (800) 308-2145. Get connected to local resources such as the Kansas Coordinator for Homeless Education and your local Homeless Education Liaison at (800) 203-9462 (Kansas residents only).

Connect families to child care subsidies and other family well-being services through the Kansas Department for Children and Families at 1(888) 369-4777. Link families to high quality care through local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies such as, Child Care Aware of Kansas at (855) 750-3343. For families you already serve, build a resource list of community partners to share in times of need. Finally, continue to engage families in two-way relationship based interactions to partner with them through the challenges and the triumphs of caring for children. You are a critical and valued resource in the lives of children and families.

Also, download our helpful one-pager on how to serve children and families experiencing homelessness:


This article was originally published in Kansas Magazine's Fall/Winter 2017 issue.

Administration for Children & Families, 2016
McCoy-Roth, Mackintosh & Murphey, 2012
US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2012


Help Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness

Topics: Family & Community Engagement, Parenting

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