Focus on early learning, part 1: What we learned through the Washington State Student Partnership on Student Homelessness

Published: February 4, 2021

Megan VeithMegan Veith, JD, Senior Manager of Policy, Advocacy, & Research
Katara JordanKatara Jordan, JD, MSW, Senior Manager of Policy & Advocacy

colorful bulletin board in Head Start programAccording to a 2018-19 report from the Department of Children Youth & Families (DCYF), one in 14 children under the age of six were identified as experiencing homelessness in Washington State. Furthermore, only 11% of the 39,641 young children experiencing homelessness in the state were in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (“ECEAP”), Early Head Start, Head Start, or school district programs. Based on our education work at Building Changes with students and families in the K-12 system who are experiencing homelessness, we know that homelessness has negative and traumatic impacts on young people’s education, developmental, and health outcomes.

Our education work has taught us how schools and teachers can implement strategies with positive impacts on students experiencing homelessness, such as establishing and maintaining routines, providing kid-friendly food to eat, and having a caring adult check in with students and their families.

Given the alarming number of young children experiencing homelessness outside the K-12 school system in Washington State, we wanted to learn more about how early learning programs can better support these children and their families. We decided to look into identifying and improving state policies and encouraging collaboration between housing and early learning providers.

To continue our learning in this area, Building Changes applied for and received an Education Leads Home State Partnerships Grant and partnered with Governor Inslee’s Office, Child Care Resources (CCR), and the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP (WSA) to better understand the current state policy environment and barriers to early learning access for young children and their families experiencing homelessness.* Below is a highlight of activities and key takeaways from our partnership activities.

Partnership Activities and Learnings

What we did What we learned
Surveyed child care and housing providers Providers highlighted the important role they play in helping families navigate complex systems and noted that effective strategies include assisting families with child care, accessing housing, and helping families collect documentation and apply for child care subsidies.
Interviewed families experiencing homelessness with young children Families said homelessness increased their children’s behavioral and attachment challenges, made it extremely difficult to provide healthy meals for their children, and negatively affected their children who generally disliked being in shelters. However, parents overwhelmingly felt that child care played a positive and central role in their children’s lives by providing loving environments, consistent routines, healthy food, and child-friendly fun activities. Child care gave parents peace of mind knowing that their children were safe while they searched for stable housing and employment.
Reviewed state policies on child care and homelessness There are opportunities within Washington State law to improve access to child care for young children experiencing homelessness by focusing on children of color, extending the Homeless Grace Period under Working Connections Child Care, and creating categorical eligibility for children experiencing homelessness under ECEAP.
Convened early learning and housing providers to hear from parents experiencing homelessness and to develop strategies to address issues Much of what we learned through this grant was confirmed by child care and housing advocates.  Both groups also raised the importance of collaboration, funding to provide transportation for young children, and the need to engage immigrant families.  They both stressed advocating for policy changes, such as removing evictions from records, and on-the-ground strategies that ensure all families have access to affordable, nutritious, family-friendly snacks and meals.

Our project takeaways highlight that more work is needed to better support young children experiencing homelessness in Washington. Child care and housing providers, partners, advocates, and others must work together across systems and silos to prioritize and expand program access for children experiencing homelessness, particularly children of color.

Statewide Webinar and a Note on COVID-19

Early in 2020, we created a webinar that highlighted our learnings in more detail. We originally planned to release the webinar then, but COVID-19 hit and due to the overwhelming impacts of the pandemic on providers, families, and children, we thought it would be best to delay its release. We are releasing it now to coincide with Washington’s new legislative session.

Given what we know now after months of grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, it is even more critical that state decisionmakers support policies that give child care and housing providers, families, and young children the resources and supports they need. Please read the second post of this two-part series to learn about how COVID-19 has significantly increased the need for early learning and child care services among children and families experiencing homelessness.

(*In December 2018, the Education Leads Home Campaign launched the State Partnerships on Student Homelessness Project. Education Leads Home (ELH) is a national campaign focused on improving education and life outcomes for children and youth experiencing homelessness. Through the State Partnerships project, ELH awarded six states, including Washington, grants to develop and implement state-level activities to support their campaign goals.)

Megan Veith and Katara Jordan are Senior Managers at Building Changes, leading policy and advocacy efforts to impact children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness in Washington State. Megan received a B.A. in English (Honors) and Political Science from the University of Washington. She also holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, with a certificate in Refugee & Humanitarian Emergencies. Katara holds a B.A. in Women’s Studies from Barnard College, Columbia University in New York City, a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Washington, and a law degree from the University of Washington School of Law. 

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