Early Childhood Housing Instability and Homelessness in North Carolina

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Policy Brief

Early Childhood Housing Instability and Homelessness in North Carolina

Executive Summary

The North Carolina Early Childhood Action Plan (ECAP) aims to ensure the long-term health and development of children through specific goals, which include improving access to safe, secure housing and high-quality learning in early childhood. The purpose of this policy brief is to provide specific recommendations to help achieve these goals through cross-sector integration of housing and early care and education (ECE) services.

For decades, there has been a growing housing affordability crisis across the U.S., with many low-income families unable to find safe and affordable housing. This housing affordability crisis paired with the negative economic consequences of the pandemic and high levels of inflation has further worsened housing stability for low-income families with children, placing more children at risk for homelessness.2-4 Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 32,000 children 0-5 years of age experienced homelessness annually in North Carolina (NC) alone.5 Housing instability in childhood has been associated with poor child health, food insecurity, and lower school achievement.6-8 Access to high-quality ECE programs can help buffer these negative impacts. However, despite eligibility for services, only eight percent of homeless children aged 0-5 in NC participate in federally funded ECE programs.5 Understanding the challenges faced by programs providing these services and by families attempting to access these programs is critical to addressing the large gap between eligibility and access.

Through focus groups with professionals from NC organizations that serve families experiencing housing difficulties, and interviews with NC parents who have experienced housing instability and/or homelessness with their young children, we identified the following themes:

  1. The unique developmental needs and material necessities (e.g., diapers, formula) of young children (0-5 years old) are not routinely considered by housing programs and policies
  2. Current housing and support services fall short of meeting families’ needs due to limited availability of shelters and temporary housing that house entire families as well as strict eligibility requirements that fail to consider the multiple, competing demands families face
  3. Limited formal cross-sector communication and collaboration occurs between housing and ECE systems, presenting opportunities for new technologies and programs to improve cross-sector integration and optimize service provision for young children

Our findings were synthesized to reach the following policy recommendations:

  1. Improve shelters’ and temporary housing programs’ abilities to serve the needs of young children through: 1) systematic implementation of validated tools, such as the Early Childhood Self-Assessment Tool for Shelters and 2) increased child development training for staff
  2. Increase enrollment of children experiencing homelessness in Early Head Start and Head Start through direct recruitment of children staying in shelters or temporary housing and relaxation of documentation requirements for families 
  3. Improve access to high-quality ECE for children experiencing homeless through increased funding for child care subsidies and NC pre-kindergarten, and through prioritization of homeless families to receive these programs 
  4. Facilitate coordination and collaboration among housing and ECE providers through convenings, formalizing existing collaborations, and closing feedback loops for referrals 

Implementation of these recommendations would facilitate establishment of the housing and ECE supports for children experiencing homelessness that are critical for meeting the NC ECAP overarching goal of providing children with safe, stable nurturing environments necessary for a healthy start.

Read the entire brief.

Duke-Margolis Authors

Michelle Franklin

Michelle Franklin, PhD

Margolis Core Faculty
Anti-Racism and Equity Committee Member

ainsley buck

Ainsley Buck

2020 Margolis Intern

Pic of Sophie

Sophie Hurewitz

2021 Margolis Intern

Margolis Summer Experience

Karina Vasudeva

2022 Margolis Intern

Beth Gifford

Elizabeth Joanne Gifford, PhD

Faculty Director of the new Bass Connections Health Policy and Innovation Theme
Associate Research Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy
Margolis Core Faculty
2020 Intern Mentor

Gillian Schmidler

Gillian Sanders Schmidler, PhD

Deputy Director, Duke-Margolis Institute for Health Policy
Professor of Population Health Sciences, School of Medicine
Margolis Executive Core Faculty
Anti-Racism and Equity Committee Member

Picture of Rushina Cholera

Rushina Cholera, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Population Health Sciences
Medical Instructor in the Department of Pediatrics
2020 Intern Mentor
Anti-Racism and Equity Committee Member
Margolis Core Faculty