The holidays are a stressful time of year for many families. But imagine if you were a family without a home.

Staff at SHELTER, Inc.’s Mountain View family emergency shelter tell the story of a little boy who entered the shelter last December. He did not have warm clothing, his shoes were several sizes too large, and he had been ill while on the streets. At their intake at the main office, when staff asked the little boy about his Christmas, he replied that Santa could not find him or had forgotten about him. When the family arrived at the shelter an hour later, there were new clothes and a large bag of toys from Santa waiting for him.

SHELTER, Inc. provides Christmas miracles like this every day. And their services are needed now more than ever. The National Center on Family Homelessness reported last week that one in every 45 American children is homeless. That’s 1.66 million homeless children (or 4,400 homeless children every day). Most are under seven years old.

Stability is critical to a young child’s healthy development. Infants born into homelessness are more likely to have low birth weights or be behind on immunizations, toddlers are more likely to demonstrate developmental delays, and preschoolers are more likely to be separated from their parents and exhibit emotional or developmental problems. These issues, if left untreated, could affect children in school and for the rest of their lives.

That’s where SHELTER, Inc. comes in. The shelter provides typical services including housing support, meals, and employment services. The program also supports the developmental needs of its youngest residents.

Parents receive therapy, can take one-on-one or group parenting classes, and learn about appropriate activities to promote their child’s development. Children ages three to five are assessed for preschool readiness and linked with Head Start and other appropriate preschools. All young children receive developmental screening to assess if they are on track in their development. Children with identified concerns are referred for further assessment or early intervention services.

Families often come to the shelter in turmoil and crisis. Nearly half of the families served last year started the reunification process to regain custody of their children; an important first step in securing a healthy bond between parent and child.

In addition, the shelter created a new play area for toddlers last year. First 5 provided child development consulting to design an inviting and educational play area and the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church donated the toys and educational materials.  See the outcome below:

Parents  can observe their children or select a book to read to them in the shelter’s new play area.

Homeless children grow up in a storm of unpredictability and insecurity. This homeless shelter is their anchor. Ninety percent of the families served last year moved on to stable housing. And the 60 babies, toddlers, and preschoolers who lived there experienced the secure, stable, and stimulating environment they needed to thrive.

To refer someone to homeless shelter services, call (800) 799-6599.

2 thoughts on “Meeting the Developmental Needs of Homeless Children

  1. Hi I was on the first 5 website and came across the kids/family homeless shelter and I would love to know more about how to get involved in helping out at one! I live in Pleasant Hill, CA. Please let me know where I can help out!

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