University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #FAR0615

Homeless Children Need Preschool1

Suzanna Smith2

Figure 1. 
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

During the recent recession, news reports included some sobering video footage from an area surrounding what’s sometimes called the happiest place on earth, Disney World. Unfortunately, climbing unemployment and home foreclosures in the region had left many middle- and working-class families suddenly homeless. Their new, temporary dwelling places were hotel rooms, the couches of friends and family members, homeless shelters, or the family car.

In fact, nationwide, family homelessness increased by 20 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to the research group Child Trends. More than 1.6 million children are homeless, with 40 percent of them under the age of six (McCoy-Roth, Mackintosh, & Murphey, 2012).

Although not all homeless children will be impacted in the same way, many pay a high price for their families’ instability, developing developmental delays and health and behavior problems that interfere with learning. For example, homeless children are more likely than children in stable housing to have problems with language, motor development, and social learning. They score lower on achievement tests, tend to perform below grade level, and may struggle to control their behavior in the classroom (McCoy-Roth, Mackintosh, & Murphey, 2012).

Fortunately, preschool programs and high quality child care can help get children off to a good start by supporting healthy, positive development. These experts suggest making homeless children a priority by providing transportation to early education programs, changing policies that prevent children from enrolling (such as requiring a permanent address), and coordinating the services families need, from food to health care (McCoy-Roth, Mackintosh, & Murphey, 2012).

Listening, learning, and living together: it’s the science of life. “Family Album” is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension and the UF Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences. If you’d like to learn more, please visit our website at, or find Family Album Radio on Facebook.

To listen to the radio broadcast:


McCoy-Roth, M. Mackintosh, B. B. & Murphey, D. (February 2012). When the bough breaks: The effects of homelessness on young children. Child Trends: Early Childhood Highlights, 3(1), 1-11. Retrieved February 27, 2012 from



This document is FAR0615, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original broadcast date February 27, 2012, as program 1878. Published on EDIS February 2013. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Suzanna Smith, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.