Ohio Department of Education Topic News

A Guide for Reserving Slots in Head Start Programs for Children Experiencing Homelessness


On December 12, 2007, the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act was signed into law by then president George W. Bush. The Head Start law included several new provisions, including the designation of children and families experiencing homelessness as categorically eligible for enrollment [Section 645(B)(ii)] and the additional requirement for these families to be identified and prioritized for enrollment [Section 640 (m)(1)].

In addition, the new Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) released in November 2016 include a provision [§1302.15(c)] allowing Head Start and Early Head Start programs to reserve one or more enrollment slots (up to 3% of the funded enrollment) for pregnant women and children experiencing homelessness in their service areas for a period of 30 days when a vacancy occurs. This provision complements the afore-mentioned regulations of the Head Start Act and can serve as one part of a program’s broader strategy for serving children and families experiencing homelessness. This Standard does not simply refer to vacancies at the beginning of the program year, but also applies to vacancies that might occur during the year because of children leaving or “dropping” from the program.

This guidance document is designed to support Early Head Start and Head Start programs in strategically leveraging the new provision allowing programs to reserve slots for children and families experiencing homelessness. Read on for a description of how programs can lay the foundation needed to ensure families can benefit from this new provision; a step-by-step guide for implementing the new provision; and an illustrative example of what reserving slots may look like in practice.

Now, more than ever, it is critically important to ensure children and families who experience homelessness can access all the support that Early Head Start and Head Start programs have to offer. An enrollment opportunity at a Head Start program, with its comprehensive services, can often be one of the few sources of stability in the life of a child and family experiencing homelessness. The new Head Start Program Performance Standards provide an incredible opportunity for programs to truly maximize their impact and make a difference in these families’ lives. This guidance document provides a beginning, but programs are encouraged to learn more about where family homelessness fits in to the new HSPPSs. 

For more information and support, programs should reach out to their State Head Start Collaboration Office and consult the links below: