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Helping Homeless Infants and Toddlers

Baby 1

The Campaign for What Works has organized a coalition of nearly 90 groups across Pennsylvania to push for legislation that ensures homeless infants and toddlers are automatically eligible for early intervention services they may need.

In this time of partisan turbulence in Harrisburg, we are pleased that bipartisan legislation (HB 2204), championed by Rep. Justin Simmons, R-Lehigh, to close a potential loophole in state law unanimously passed the House in June. It has already been placed in position for quick approval in the Senate when the General Assembly returns for its fall voting session.

Pennsylvania’s 6,000 homeless children between birth and three years old are found in homeless shelters, temporary housing, or moving from place to place as their mothers seek shelter. Current law does not automatically make them eligible for services and tracking if they are needed.

Research shows that children living in these circumstances are at high risk to suffer multiple developmental delays, emotional and behavioral problems, and learning issues when the enter school.

Rep. Simmons garnered 32 cosponsors for the legislation, including members of leadership of both Republican and Democratic caucuses. Similar legislation in the Senate, offered by Sen. Chuck McIlhenney, R-Bucks, also has strong bipartisan support.

C4WW leader Kevin Jenkins praised the quick, bipartisan approval of the bill.

“This is an important step forward to ensure homeless infants and toddlers in Pennsylvania get quick access to early intervention services,” said Jenkins, vice president for public policy and civic leadership at The Pittsburgh Foundation. “These young children are at great risk for developmental delays. Helping them is the right thing to do.”

Click here to see Rep. Simmons’ press announcement and video on the bill’s passage.

Homelessness Multiplies Risks for Young Children 

Without access to early intervention services, homeless infants and toddlers are at high risk. Research shows:

  • One-in-three will be diagnosed with failure-to-thrive.
  • Homeless infants and children are four times as likely to experience developmental delays.
  • 75 percent of homeless children under five years old experience one major delay in development.
  • 44 percent experience two delays in development.
  • 34 percent exhibit emotional and/or behavioral problems.
  • 25 percent-plus repeat a grade.
  • 30 percent are enrolled in special education classes.
  • 30 percent-plus have involvement with child protective services after being served by a homeless housing program.

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council’s Clinicians Network defines developmental delay “as low achievement of milestone tasks related to communication, learning, fine and gross motor skills, and personal-social interaction, compared to children of the same chronological age. Delayed development may limit a child’s ability to speak or understand, walk or run, manipulate objects, or respond to others and the world appropriately.”

It makes sense to ensure that these high-risk children are automatically eligible for early intervention screening and monitoring by county-run agencies.