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McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance

Homeless Education Advisory 2003 - 6: Serving Homeless Preschool Children

This advisory is intended to provide guidance to school officials, Homeless Education Liaisons child development specialists, preschool program personnel, and providers of services to preschool children and their families, as they implement the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act requirement that "each homeless child and youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including public preschool education (emphasis added), as other children and youth."

Homeless preschoolers are an under-served population due to the transient nature of homelessness and the enrollment barriers that children without homes and their families face, such as:

  • Residency requirements;
  • Lack of medical/immunization records;
  • The inability to afford tuition based programs;
  • Inflexible enrollment periods and procedures, such as wait list priorities; and
  • Conflicting eligibility guidelines.

An important goal of McKinney-Vento is to afford homeless preschoolers the same opportunity to enroll, attend and succeed in preschool as non-homeless preschoolers, thereby minimizing their educational disruption due to homelessness. The intent is to better connect the available community resources for young children to improve the provision of comprehensive services to homeless children and their families.

School District Homeless Education Liaisons and early care and education providers, including child development and preschool program personnel, child care resource and referral agencies (CCRRs), and other service providers, must coordinate and collaborate to review and undertake a revision of practices, or policies that inadvertently act as barriers to the enrollment of homeless children in child care and early education programs. As stated in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act Non-Regulatory Guidance (F.2, F.4, and F.6) Homeless Education Liaisons play a central role in ensuring that "Homeless children and youth receive educational services for which they are eligible, including Head Start, Even Start, and preschool programs administered by the LEA" and must:

  • identify preschool-aged homeless children by working closely with shelters, emergency assistance motels, and social service agencies in their area, and by inquiring when enrolling homeless students in school, whether the family also has younger children.
  • collaborate with the school district special education program and providers of Early Intervention services to ensure that the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirement that highly mobile children with disabilities, such as homeless children who are in need of early intervention, special education and related services, are located, identified and evaluated and that homeless children are included in the "Child Find" process for early identification of special education needs.
  • work with preschool program staff to stress the essential nature of their services for homeless children and their families, to help them identify and remove barriers, such as waiting lists, that may prevent homeless families from obtaining child care or related services.
  • review and recommend that early care and education programs set priorities for homeless preschoolers in assigning available child care slots.

As stated in the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, et al Recommendation for the Reauthorization of the Head Start Act (p. 1), "over 40% of the children living in shelters are under the age of five, and therefore at an age where early childhood education can have a significant impact on their development and future academic achievement." Our challenge is to work together to alleviate the reality that "only 15% of preschool children identified as homeless were enrolled in preschool programs."

Appendix: Related Education Legislation (McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act Non-Regulatory Guidance p.28)

  • Head Start has added homeless preschoolers as a targeted population to be served. Background on homelessness and its impact on young children, as well as implementation guidance can be found in a 1992 Information Memorandum from the Head Start Bureau. Just as the legislation requires public schools to identify and remove barriers that may delay enrollment, the same requirement applies to preschool programs, such as Head Start.

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that homeless preschoolers and all homeless children be included in the Child Find process for early identification of special education needs. It is recommended that, when possible, the eligibility process for identifying special needs should be expedited to avoid delays in provided services to eligible children caused by frequent mobility.



Last Updated: August 26, 2003
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