Access to Early Childhood Services for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
The present study addresses five primary research questions: (1) What factors impede access to early childhood services among young children experiencing homelessness? (2) What factors facilitate access to early childhood services? (3) To what degree does perceived level of cross-systems collaboration vary by professional affiliation? (4) What are promising practices among communities that are facilitating access to early childhood services? (5) What factors contribute to the presence of promising practices for accessing early childhood services among young children experiencing homelessness?
Methods: A mixed methods sequential explanatory design was used to address the research questions. In spring 2013, the National Association of the Education of Homeless Children and Youth conducted a national survey of professionals serving young children/families experiencing homelessness. The purpose of the survey was to develop an understanding of the barriers and facilitators of access to early childhood services and the degree of collaboration among professionals serving young children experiencing homelessness.
Sample: (N=970) Forty-six percent of respondents were McKinney-Vento homeless education liaisons, 27% were Early Head Start/Head Start professionals, 12% were child care providers, 11% were homeless housing providers, and the remaining respondents were PreK Local Education Agencies (LEAs). A purposive homogeneous sampling method was used to identify respondents for follow-up interviews.
Analyses: RQ’s 1 & 2 were addressed using a series of frequency analyses. RQ3 was addressed using Kruskal-Wallis one-way analysis of variance tests to evaluate the degree to which perceived level of cross-systems collaboration varied by respondent type. Qualitative interview data were open-coded to identify themes/categories of characteristics that facilitate promising practices for accessing early childhood services.
Findings: The two most frequently identified barriers for accessing early childhood services were transportation and program space (i.e. capacity). Conversely, the three strategies identified as most successful for connecting families to early childhood services were: having a dedicated early childhood person, assistance with paperwork, and having a relationship with a liaison. Kruskal-Wallis one-way analysis of variance tests revealed differences in perceived cross-systems collaboration based on professional affiliation. Preliminary qualitative findings indicate that strong cross-systems collaborations and relationships facilitate increased access to early childhood services.
Implications: Preliminary findings suggest that the following strategies will facilitate increased access to early childhood services: (1) Increasing providers/professionals understanding of the impact of homelessness on early development; (2) Providing professional development training focused on the identification of young children who are homeless as well as the availability/scope of early childhood services; (3) Implementing communication strategies; and (4) Advocating for policies/funding that increase access to services/programs for young children experiencing homelessness.