Locally and nationally
the number of families who are homeless has been growing, and approximately 48%
of the children in those families are infants, toddlers or preschoolers.
In 2009, The University
of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development (OCD) Early Childhood Mental Health
Consultation Project identified that unstable housing was a significant risk
factor for the young children referred for mental health supports. At the same
time, OCD became involved in a local group of early childhood providers, known
as Bridges, that was addressing the unmet
needs of young children in families without housing.
To support the local efforts and incorporate the lessons OCD
learned from their related efforts, OCD partnered with the Education Law Center (ELC) to seek funding that would support
a project addressing the healthy development of children experiencing
homelessness. In January 2012, they received two-year grants from The Heinz
Endowments (THE) and the Allegheny County Department of Human services to improve the community’s response to young children
experiencing homelessness. In collaboration with many concerned partners
representing the early childhood fields, OCD is using the following strategies
to improve the community’s response to young children and families who are
- To build on
the existing OCDEL and THE supported early childhood mental health
consultation services. Consultation is provided to families in homeless
housing programs to strengthen the parent-child relationship, in addition
to addressing the child’s needs;
collaboration with Bridges, OCD is improving access for young children and
their families to quality early childhood services ranging from Nurse
Family Partnerships and Early Head Start, to Head Start, Pre-K Counts and
quality child care.
- OCD is partnering
with homeless housing programs to educate parents about strengthening
their relationships with their children during ordinary activities like mealtime,
bath time, bedtime and play time; to have fun with each other.
- ELC is
reviewing existing laws, policies and practices that impact young children
experiencing homelessness to identify areas in need of change to best
facilitate effective, efficient service delivery across systems serving
Research and practice show that many
homeless children experience extreme stress without adequate adult support. That
stress impacts the development of their brains and impacts their health; sometimes
leading to developmental delays. That stress is considered toxic (Toxic Stress: The Facts).
that, even under stressful conditions, supportive, responsive relationships
with caring adults as early in life as possible can prevent or reverse the
damaging effects of toxic stress response" (Toxic Stress: The Facts).
efforts of OCD and their partner organizations will be to explore practical
ways to incorporate the following conditions into homeless housing programs; increase
stable, nurturing relationships with caregivers and increase access to high quality early care
and education to aid children in overcoming the impact of toxic stress.
By bridging the
homeless and early childhood fields, the partners intend to operate as a
catalyst for change; by supporting a culture that nurtures cross-system,
innovative, state and local policies, and practices; supporting the resources
that promote resiliency and school success for young children experiencing
homelessness and decreases the stigma and misunderstandings that often
accompany homelessness. The team is working to identify policies and practices
that need to be changed, to develop recommendations in early childhood centers
and in policy practices, and to conduct needs assessments that will help pilot
possible responses. Ultimately, these practices will help educate more people
about young homeless children who are often overlooked.
For the Office of Child
Development, this multidisciplinary project has helped build staff capacity and
combine multiple areas of expertise.; Ray Firth, Director of Policy, is the
Principal Investigator; Joan Eichner, Children's Policy Director, is the
project manager Jessica Langan is the full-time Mental Health Consultant;
Stephanie Groark is the Evaluation Consultant; and Laurie Mulvey, Director of
Service Demonstrations, is the Consultant on Best Practice Guidelines; Nancy
Hubley,of the Education Law Center, is acting as a Consultant; Andi Fischoff is
a Funding Development Expert; Kerry Ishizaki is a Communications Consultant and
Reem Hobeldin is a Communications Specialist for the project.
Starting Life Without a Home: To help educate policymakers
and advocates about what it’s like to start life without a home, Zero to Three
has produced a short video with highlights from a recent Congressional briefing
on supporting homeless infants and toddlers. Starting Life Without a Home calls
attention to the negative effects of family homelessness upon the developmental
needs of young children and presents examples of successful intervention
programs. Click here to watch the video now.