Part 1: What We Learned Through the Washington State Student Partnership on Student Homelessness
According 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. Below is 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.)
Part 2: Our Advocacy Efforts and The Impacts of COVID-19
In the first post of this two-part series, we shared the early learning and homelessness work Building Changes did through its State Partnerships Grant from Education Leads Home. In this post, we will share some of the updates to our work since it ended and the impacts of COVID-19 on children and families.
Our early learning partners, Child Care Resources (CCR) and the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP (WSA), have expressed concerns about how COVID-19 has negatively impacted young children and families experiencing homelessness and child care providers. Immigrant families and families of color have been hit especially hard during this time. Some of the biggest issues our partners have raised include:
- Contact from families experiencing homelessness has dropped off, especially between April and June.
- Confusion around where child care facilities were open and whether families could continue to bring their children.
- Fear of using child care and venturing out of where families were staying because of increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
- Extra child care support needed to make virtual schooling work.
- Child care centers struggling with class size requirements, lowered enrollment rates, staff layoffs, lack of financial alternatives, high levels of stress and anxiety, lack of supplies such as diapers, technology use and access needs, and an aging workforce.
- Child care providers are also experiencing high levels of anxiety around contracting COVID-19 because many have family members who are essential workers. There is also a lack of mental health supports for child care providers themselves.
- Providers and families are concerned about the eviction moratorium ending, as well as lay-offs, furloughs, lack of employment benefits, and limited work hours due to the pandemic, which are causing disruptions in families’ eligibility in the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program and other support programs that are dependent on employment.
In our webinar and through our ELH project, one of our main advocacy strategies was extending the Homeless Grace Period (HGP) under the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program. WCCC is a state program that provides subsidized child care benefits to families in low-income households. The HGP originally allowed families in WCCC, who were experiencing homelessness, to have four months to submit WCCC documentation. We helped pass House Bill 2456 during the 2020 Washington State legislative session to extend this to 12 months. While there has been success with this extension, we are concerned about how the Department of Children Youth & Families (DCYF) is implementing parts of this law. We urge DCYF to:
- Ensure that all families who are experiencing homelessness under the McKinney-Vento definition in the WCCC statute will be able to use HGP as they are entitled to under the law. DCYF should be working with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) which already has a long history of determining eligibility under McKinney-Vento.
- Change its new practice of requiring families to wait a full year before they can use the HGP again. It can be incredibly difficult to find work for families experiencing homelessness and COVID-19 is making this even harder. It is unfortunate that DCYF is making it harder for families to use HGP to help them secure work during this time.
- Not create additional barriers for families experiencing homelessness that put families’ WCCC eligibility at risk.
We know that this legislative session will come with new challenges and that the next few months will likely show increases in COVID-19 deaths. During the 2021 legislative session, we are also working to ensure that children experiencing homelessness have automatic and prioritized access to ECEAP. Currently most children experiencing homelessness can enroll, but some are “over income” due to ECEAP’s extremely low income eligibility level. Building Changes and our partners will continue to advocate for and support efforts to prioritize the needs of young children and families experiencing homelessness, who are often left out of funding conversations and their needs overlooked.
Learn more about our policy and advocacy work.
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.