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Final Head Start Rules Announced

Thursday, September 1, 2016

NAEHCY Applauds New Policies for Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced final regulations to update the Head Start Performance Standards.  The regulations contain new policies on the prioritization and attendance of homeless children, as well as other procedures to facilitate the identification, enrollment, and stability of homeless children in Head Start and Early Head Start.  

In 2007, Congress adopted nearly all of NAEHCY’s recommendations for strengthening services and removing barriers to Head Start for homeless families in the reauthorization of the Head Start Act. However, some of the most important requirements were subject to regulations that were not issued until today.

Selected highlights from the Performance Standards that apply to both Head Start and Early Head Start programs include:

  • Homeless children (defined by the McKinney-Vento education subtitle definition) are categorically eligible for Head Start and do not need to prove income. Head Start program staff are allowed to confirm homelessness through many alternative means, thus streamlining the process for both staff and parents.
  • Head Start programs are permitted to reserve enrollment slots for children who experience homelessness. Lack of available slots during the program year is one of the most common barriers to Early/Head Start enrollment for children experiencing homelessness. Allowing programs to reserve slots for homeless children gives programs an opportunity to plan better for predictable mobility and ensure that waitlists do not prevent homeless children from accessing Head Start programs.
  • Head Start programs are required to make efforts to maintain the enrollment of homeless children, regardless of whether the family or child moves to a different service area, or transition the child to a program in a different service area, according to the family’s needs. This requirement is consistent with preK-12 school stability policies that have proven effective in improving school participation and success for homeless children, and represents further alignment with the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
  • Head Start programs are required to allow homeless children to attend for up to 90 days or as long as allowed under state licensing requirements, without immunization and other records, to give the family reasonable time to present these documents.
  • Head Start policies and procedures cannot require families to provide documents that confirm a child’s age, if doing so creates a barrier for the family to enroll the child.
  • Head Start programs are required to utilize community resources, where possible, to provide transportation, if a child experiencing homelessness is unable to attend classes regularly because the family does not have transportation to and from the program facility.
  • Head Start programs must report how they are meeting the needs of homeless, foster, and other children, if they are proposing to serve children who are not categorically eligible, and who are between 100 and 130 percent of the poverty line.

Research demonstrates that the younger and longer a child experiences homelessness, the greater the cumulative toll of negative health outcomes, which can have lifelong effects on the child, the family, and the community. “Head Start and Early Head Start programs are an integral part of both immediate and long-term efforts to prevent and end family homelessness,” said Barbara Duffield, Director of Policy and Programs for NAEHCY. “The promulgation of the final Head Start Performance Standards brings over a decade of advocacy to a successful finish. Our work now shifts to the cross-training and collaborative partnerships that will be necessary to translate the new rules into improved access and services for children and families experiencing homelessness.”

Read a complete summary of all of the Head Start regulations specifically related to homelessness, including citations.

Read the Federal Register announcement of the Head Start regulations.

For more information, please contact us: or (866) 862-2562

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