Homelessness in Early Childhood in Philadelphia

Homelessness is a serious and unfortunately common challenge impacting thousands of children and youth in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia alone, there were 5,761 public school-enrolled students who experienced homelessness in school year (SY) 2014-2015, of whom 1,590 were under age five/in pre-K. 


While children and youth of all ages who experience homelessness are at significantly higher risk for physical, mental, and behavioral health diagnoses compared to their stably housed peers, young children are particularly vulnerable. Early care and education (ECE) stands to play a critical role in buffering these children from the risks associated with homelessness, yet only 49 of the 1,146 (4.28%) Philadelphia children who were age eligible received pre-K services in SY 2014-2015. No data is available for children 0-3.

It is incumbent upon the City of Philadelphia, as well as other agencies involved in the provision and financing of ECE, such as Early Head Start, Head Start, and the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, to expand and prioritize funding to serve these highest-risk children. The City of Philadelphia has ample opportunity to incorporate effective policies as it continues to refine and implement its new pre-K program, PHLpreK; proactive steps might including prioritizing children experiencing homelessness, as well as targeting outreach to identify and enroll age-eligible children in high-prevalence locations, such as at shelters and in low-income, minority-majority neighborhoods.

Going forward, relevant agencies need to better address homelessness among young children through expanded identification efforts, and by reporting data that specifically describes the features of young child homelessness in Pennsylvania. Reporting age/grade categories at the school district level would represent a significant improvement; for larger school districts, such as those in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, data should be disaggregated to the individual school level, with appropriate safeguards to protect individuals’ confidentiality. This would allow for more accurate allocations of support and prevention resources; for example, PHLpreK could prioritize service providers located in high-burden neighborhoods. Since many young children experience homelessness prior to entering the public school system, alternate identification and reporting processes are needed to best serve these children. The Commonwealth’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness (ECYEH) program facilitates identification and services across the eight regions of the Commonwealth, and reports on regional-level homelessness. While ECYEH reports on children enrolled in public pre-K, it does not report on ECE services for children who are too young for pre-K. Additional funding would support ECYEH in better identifying and serving young children who have yet to enter the public education system, and could increase the number of age-eligible children experiencing homelessness who are enrolled in high quality ECE. 

For more information on student homelessness in Pennsylvania, see “Student Homelessness in Pennsylvania—School Year 2014-2015.” For information on early childhood homelessness and ECE, see “Best Practices in Early Care and Education for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness”—coming soon. Other high-quality resources include the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) and the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE). 

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Education. Pennsylvania’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program: 2014-15 State Evaluation Report. 2016;

Available from: http://www.education.pa.gov/Documents/K-12/Homeless%20Education/2014-15%20Pennsylvania%20ECYEH%20State%20Evaluation%20Report.pdf

Read more about school-age children here