Report: Infants and Toddlers Experiencing Homelessness: Prevalence and Access to Early Learning in Twenty States
This report, developed in partnership with Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, describes the prevalence of homelessness among infants and toddlers in twenty states; gaps in access to early learning programs; and recommendations for increasing enrollment and support.
Homelessness is a traumatic experience with long-term consequences, particularly for infants and toddlers in their most critical stages of development. Yet homelessness among young children is hidden. It includes a range of living situations:
- a six-month old living in a car with her family;
- a family of five squeezed into a motel room;
- a newborn in an emergency shelter;
- a two-year-old on a series of floors next to a series of couches, moving with his mother from place to place as she stays with anyone who will take them in.
Lack of shelter, fear of having children removed from parental custody, and restrictive eligibility criteria for housing programs mean that most young children experiencing homelessness stay in places that are not easily identified.
To date, the only data on the number of young children experiencing homelessness is from the U.S. Department of Education, which estimates that approximately 1.3 million children under the age of six experienced homelessness in 2018-2019. However, these data are not disaggregated by age, and, therefore, the prevalence of homelessness amongst the very youngest — infants and toddlers — has thus far been unknown. Yet the years from prenatal to age three are a unique and critical period of child development — the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Moreover, research shows that homelessness is particularly injurious to young children, with lasting consequences. If we are to prevent longer term impacts, we must increase awareness and action to support expecting parents, as well as infants and toddlers experiencing homelessness. A first step in doing so is understanding the prevalence of homelessness in this age range, and the gaps in their access to high-quality early learning programs.
To this end, SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan analyzed data from twenty states that have formed broad-based coalitions to move prenatal-to-3 priorities forward.
This report describes the prevalence of homelessness among infants and toddlers in these twenty states; gaps in access to early learning programs; and recommendations for increasing enrollment and support.
This first-of-its-kind analysis finds that:
1. 311,961 children under the age of three are experiencing homelessness across the twenty states, representing approximately 3% of the 0-3 population.
2. Only 7% of these children are enrolled in an early childhood program (Early Head Start, Child Care, or Parents as Teachers Home Visiting). This means that 289,741 infants and toddlers experiencing homelessness are not identified by early learning programs in these states; many may not even be enrolled.
3. Of the three early childhood programs for which data was available, Early Head Start has the highest enrollment rate of children experiencing homelessness (4.2%), compared to child care (2.2%) and Parents as Teachers Home Visiting (1%).
4. Across the twenty states, there is significant variation in the enrollment rates of infants and toddlers experiencing homelessness. The next phase of our work will be to identify the policies and practices that have led to higher rates of enrollment in some states, in order to replicate them nationally.
The low enrollment of infants and toddlers experiencing homelessness in high quality early learning programs demands action at every level. In this report, we describe these findings in more detail, and outline action steps for early childhood programs and providers, federal agencies, state agencies, and the U.S. Congress. We hope the data in this report sparks conversations and informs specific steps to increase enrollment and support for these vulnerable children and their families.
Please share this report!
In this toolkit, we have provided sample social media and email language about this report. Our goal is to expand the reach of these findings and recommendations to as many of these agencies as we can, so we thank you for supporting its amplification. Please feel free to adapt the copy below as needed to better fit your context and your audience.