Supporting Young Children Experiencing Homelessness in Pennsylvania

We are excited to announce the release of new resources detailing policies and strategies for supporting young children experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania!

Best Practices in Early Care and Education for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness, written as part of the William Penn Foundation-funded Building Early Links for Learning (BELL) project, documents existing approaches and opportunities for serving young children experiencing homelessness in early education programs. The paper details the scope and distribution of young child homelessness in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, and includes actionable recommendations for local and state agencies, as well as for organizations serving the homeless, and for early care and education programs as they work with young children experiencing homelessness and their families. 

A companion piece provides supplementary data on early child homelessness, including a series of maps, charts, and graphs that help to contextualize where Pennsylvania stands in relation to other states in the U.S. View the infographic here. 

Our hope is that these pieces will serve to inform ongoing early care and education systems reform, including:

• Instituting policies to ensure that young children experiencing homelessness are prioritized for service in PHLpreK and other publicly supported early care and education programs, and that they receive comprehensive, high-quality services that address their needs;

• Enhancing collaboration between homeless-serving organizations and early care and education programs, including increased awareness of young children’s developmental needs in the processes and physical features of homeless-serving organizations; and more familiarity with supportive housing systems among early care and education staff; and

• Appropriate case management and other dual-generation services that assist the parents of young children experiencing homelessness with obtaining stable housing and employment, and support their ongoing health and educational needs. 

For additional information on the intersection of homelessness and early care and education, we encourage you to visit the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY)’s website and explore their resources page

The Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) has just released a brief on the impact of homelessness on young children as well.

 

Building Early Links for Learning (BELL) Forum: First Year Findings and Next Steps

By Sara Shaw

Sara Shaw is a doctoral candidate in the Human Development and Family Studies Department at the University of Delaware, and visiting scholar at People's Emergency Center in Philadelphia, PA.

About half of children in shelters for families experiencing homelessness are under six years old. The Building Early Links for Learning (BELL) project brings together homeless advocates, early childhood educators, and developmental scientists to support these young children. Born out of a collaboration between PHMC and local universities, this two-year William Penn Foundation-funded initiative seeks to (1) increase the developmental friendliness of shelter programs and (2) increase the enrollment of young children experiencing homelessness in high quality early learning programs in Philadelphia. 

The BELL initiative recently celebrated its first year with a forum held on March 16th at the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. More than 80 people from across the region, including federal partners and local service providers, registered to learn more about the first-year findings from the project. 

Attendees heard about successes from BELL investigators. Presenters discussed several ways to track and use data on early education enrollment of young children in shelter, as well as data on the quality of shelter environments for young children. Findings highlighted improvements made to increase the developmental friendliness of the city’s emergency and transitional housing programs. 

   

Before and after photo at Red Shield Family Residence where the BELL team funded a private breastfeeding space.

Project partners with The Cloudburst Group also shared findings from focus groups with early education providers, housing providers, and parents experiencing homelessness. These activities resulted in practice recommendations on how to best address families’ needs and access to high quality early education options.

Amanda Atkinson, with PHMC, shared findings from a landscape analysis of successful approaches to increasing access to high quality early learning programs for young children in shelter, including funding, service delivery model, and program components. Amanda’s presentation highlighted examples of successful models from across the country, as well as practice implications for Philadelphia. She also discussed how the Philadelphia Head Start Partnership worked with the BELL team to identify potential locations for implementing a locally designed Head Start program option for shelter residents. 

Marsha Basloe, senior administrator with the Administration for Children and Families, also attended, commenting that the BELL is leading the nation in addressing the needs of homeless children.  Marsha noted that the BELL project has the potential to be a model for how to best support the early learning needs of young children experiencing homelessness. 

The BELL project looks forward to starting its second year of implementation and incorporating these findings into a set of best practices to support the enrollment of young children in shelter into high quality early learning programs.

For more information about the Building Early Links for Learning project, and to see slides from the forum, please visit the People’s Emergency Center website.

Tell us what you think about . .

The Early Childhood Action Collective (ECAC) is an initiative of Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), with grant support from the William Penn Foundation. ECAC is committed to building the knowledge base around high quality early childhood learning and identifying promising policies and practices to support the well-being of young children in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.  

The PA Director Credential

As part of its work, ECAC is conducting a survey around director credentialing in Pennsylvania. Our goal is to better understand how the credentialing process works from the perspective of early care and education staff, including challenges to obtaining a credential and how well coursework applies to directors' day-to-day work. We plan to use survey findings to inform recommended changes to the current credentialing process, and to identify areas where technical assistance and professional development may help directors to better serve their students and support their staff and programs. 

If you complete the survey and leave your email address, you will be entered to win one of 10 $25 Visa gift cards!

Please take a few moments to complete the survey--your feedback will be valuable to improving director credentialing and training in Philadelphia.

Early intervention in early childhood classrooms

ECAC is also conducting a survey to better understand how ECE providers in Philadelphia work with young children with special needs. Results will inform a white paper on early intervention and inclusion of children with special needs in ECE classrooms in Philadelphia.

Please take a few moments to complete this survey, and to pass the link on to your staff/colleagues so they can complete the survey as well. 

If you complete the survey and provide your email, you will be included in a lottery to receive one of 20 $25 Visa gift cards once it has ended!

We would love it if you could complete BOTH surveys—and you will be eligible in both drawings if you do!

Finally, if you just love answering questions, you live in Philadelphia, and you want a chance for one more gift card, the folks over at Read by 4th would like to hear what you think too.

 

How Cities Embrace Their Infants and Toddlers

By Judy Reidt-Parker and Harriet Dichter  The brain undergoes its most rapid growth during the first few years of life. As cities like Philadelphia expand their pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) services, it is important to consider the supports, care, and education that very young children may receive prior to entering pre-K if we are to achieve the best results. With this in mind, we analyzed initiatives supported by and/or implemented in 11 cities that feature infant and toddler care.

Read the executive summary

Read the full brief