An Act Providing Immediate Child Care Assistance to Homeless Families
Senate Bill 257
Lead Sponsor: Senator Linda Dorcena Forry
House Bill 2796
Lead Sponsor: Representative Marjorie Decker
The Need for Action:
Increasing access to high-quality early care and education programs for homeless children will contribute to their healthy development and resiliency.
What This Bill Does:
- Reinstates a previous policy from 2007 that allows families living in all types of homeless shelters to be deemed eligible to access childcare as soon as they enter a shelter.
- Eliminates red tape so that homeless children in MA can qualify for subsidized early education and school-age care.
Why Does This Matter?
Currently, in order to access a full-time child care subsidy, a parent residing in a shelter must demonstrate that s/he participates in an approved “service need” for at least 30 hours per week (i.e. employment/job training, education programming, etc.). Most parents, amidst major transitions in their lives that led to their loss of housing, are unable maintain their education or employment programs during the turbulence of becoming homeless. This often forces a parent to begin a job hunt from scratch once their shelter location is determined. Without safe, reliable child care, they are often left stuck and unable to seek out education, employment, or training opportunities.
Early education and child care creates stability, encourages age-appropriate socialization, and prepares homeless children for kindergarten to ensure that they do not fall behind their peers.
With this bill, the Commonwealth can act on demonstrated research regarding the impact of homelessness on young children, and the critical interventions such as high-quality early education and care that minimize the impact of trauma and adversity in children’s brain development.
Rights of Homeless Children
Federal law addresses the educational rights of homeless children including those children who live in a shelter. The education subtitle of the Federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act guarantees access to public school education for school age homeless children. For younger children, the McKinney- Vento Act provides that “each homeless child and youth must have equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including public preschool education, as other children and youth.” However, while access to public school is compulsory, open, and universal in Massachusetts, access to preschool education is not, a fact which limits the reach of McKinney-Vento for our youngest children experiencing homelessness.
Meeting the Needs of Young Homeless Children — What the Research Tells Us
- Healthy Child Development
- Many homeless children lack quality experiences in early learning environments. These inadequate experiences create an additional barrier to healthy growth in all developmental domains.
- Continuity is a central piece of healthy child development — one that children without steady housing lack.²
- School Readiness
- The experience of homelessness appears to be especially damaging in the area of educational success, as the area where homeless children most clearly suffer, even in comparison to low-income housed children, is in academic performance. Research suggests that children who experience homelessness begin school with reading and math skills that are low in comparison to their peers, and then continue to show a restricted rate of improvement over the elementary and middle school years, falling further and further behind even their low-income housed peers.
- Residential instability compromises the school readiness skills of very young children who have just begun or not yet entered school. These early effects, which will likely accumulate as the child grows older, make clear the importance of understanding the homelessness and residential mobility among young children.³
- Research tells us of the importance of putting a focus on homeless children’s success through early interventions that foster resilience and are on track for a stable future. One concern is a lack of access at- risk children have to high quality early learning experiences to prepare them for success in kindergarten.⁴
- High-quality early childhood education programs have the opportunity to offer children a safe and stimulating environment with supportive teachers who provide consistent routines, structure, and opportunities to thrive. Without these programs, children are often in settings that offer little stability, structure, or routine, and lack preparation for success in a school setting.
- The National Center on Family Homelessness. (2012). Supporting Homeless Young Children and Their Parents. Needham, MA: The National Center on Family Homelessness.
- Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (2014). Meeting the Child Care Needs of Homeless Families: How Do States Stack Up? New York City: The Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness.
- Monn, A., Casey, E., Wenzel, A., Sapienza, J., Kimball, A., Mack III, B., et al. (2013). Risk and Resilience in Homeless Children. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension, Children, Youth and Family Cons