The Importance of Focus on ‘Priority Areas’ in Early Learning Scholarship Funding

Jamie Bonczyk


Homelessness is a trauma for all members of a family; for children, the impacts can include serious emotional and physical health problems; a higher likelihood of separation from their families; and greater school mobility that can lead to lower academic performance. At Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 80x3: Resilient from the Start initiative, we connect families with the resources available for children and parents to thrive, no matter their situation. The services of the Early Learning Scholarships Program not only aim to restore stability but also strive to create pathways to education, healthcare, employment, and community engagement—essential components that were disrupted during periods of homelessness. 

Children without a stable home often miss key parts of social development and are not able to experience the upbringing they deserve. This is driven in part by the uncertainty of where they will sleep each night, the challenges in preparing meals that cater to their cultural and health needs, and the absence of a consistent environment for healing, learning, and play. These are not hypothetical concerns; they are real realities faced by many children today. Babies and toddlers face the highest risk of eviction in the United States, as revealed in a study published in October 2023 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This stress is endured by children who haven’t even grown to be more than five years old, an all-consuming statistic. 

In recent years, the Twin Cities metro area has witnessed a troubling trend—a 53% increase in families with children experiencing homelessness between January 2022 and January 2023. This surge is attributed to factors such as the end of eviction moratoriums, stagnant wages, and a severe shortage of affordable housing options. Driven by these factors, hundreds of young children reside in county-run shelters or move frequently from place to place in search of stability.

Healing from homelessness is possible. Every day in Minnesota, children and their families move out of homelessness into housing, where recovery from the trauma of homelessness has a chance to begin. Often this housing comes paired with long-term supportive services, customized to the unique needs of household members and creating access to education, employment, healthcare, and community that had been disrupted by homelessness. 

Beginning July 1, 2024, the scope of priority areas for Early Learning Scholarships will expand to include children who have an incarcerated parent, who are in or have a parent in a substance use treatment program, who are in or have a parent in mental health treatment, who have an Individualized Education Program or those who have experienced domestic violence. This expansion acknowledges the interconnectedness of various life challenges and underscores the importance of comprehensive support systems for vulnerable children.

Stable housing is foundational for children and their families’ well-being and future. The rise in homelessness among families in the Twin Cities metro area highlights an urgent need for initiatives like the Early Learning Scholarships Program. By promoting and helping expand access to comprehensive, trauma-sensitive support, Greater Twin Cities United Way and 80x3 not only aim to address immediate challenges faced by children but also lay a solid groundwork for their educational and social development.

About the Author

Jamie Bonczyk is a Program Officer for 80×3: Resilient from the Start, an innovative region-wide initiative to increase capacity to support parenting skills and provide trauma-sensitive early child care in a safe, stable environment that supports child resiliency. Her background includes the roles of executive director of an early learning nonprofit, Head Start administrator, adjunct instructor, author, professional development content creator, and preschool teacher. Jamie has a bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead and a master’s degree from Roosevelt University, both in early childhood education. She completed a Head Start Management Fellowship at UCLA and became a Certified Professional Project Manager through the University of St Thomas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

hello world!
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram