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Daycare as a Catalyst for Change: A Playtime Project to Help Homeless Families

The Playtime Project is a service provided to homeless families living in shelters in Washington, DC. The mission of this program is to provide children - from infants to high-schoolers - a safe and healthy daycare or after-school environment wherein they can have a sense of stability in an otherwise turbulent lifestyle. We interviewed two caregivers, Danielle and Heather, that help comfort and educate these children. Their insight echoed those we were given in interviews we conducted with stakeholders in other ancillary services for the same types of families. The facts of life for these families (primarily single women with children) are complicated, their routines are grinding and their future is uncertain.

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"Often, women tolerate domestic violence because they have only one other choice, homelessness." It's penetrating insights like these that Danielle and Heather from the Playtime Project share with us. Danielle and Heather work in two homeless shelters, New Beginnings and DC General (respectively). 

New Beginnings

New Beginnings is a studio apartment style shelter for families around the DC metro area. These families are mostly single mother head of households. It's a transitional shelter for smaller families that are moving between shelters and temporary households. 

DC General

The children at DC General have, as Heather puts it, been bouncing around the system. Often due to domestic violence, these families are without recourse and are unable to pay rent. Usually, these families have only made the transition to this shelter after 'a sustained period of chaos'.

Stigma of Homelessness

Often, the children in these families feel stigmatized and are ashamed to share the fact that they live in a shelter with their peers. The Playtime Project provides a venue and programming for such peers to find each other, share their stories and time and feel 'normal'.

A Deficiency in Healthy Relationship Formation Skills

Danielle and Heather helped us better understand the lives of the children and families that live in these shelters and participate in the Playtime Project. Often, the problem they see is that these children grow up in the same fashion that their parent(s) have (violence / poverty) and are therefore unable to create appropriate relationships / attachments. Heather explains:

"You see the whole spectrum of children having abnormal reactions to new or potential relationships. Though initially you might get emotional when a child who's never met you will run up to you and hug you, this type of open-armed acceptance of strangers can put them at risk later in life."

Often this feeling of desparation for a connection is what drives young girls / teens into unhealthy relationships that end in a pregnancy that incapacitates these young women. In fact, Heather shared with us that - often - there are pimps and other unscrupulous men preying on these young women right outside of these shelters.

A Vicious Cylce of Abuse

More often than not, the young mothers that pass through the halls of DC General and New Beginnings were themselves - at the same age that their children are when seeking these shelters - victimized in much the same manner as their children grow up to be. It's a 'vicious cyle' of trauma perpetuating an environment and lifestyle that avails much greater exposure to violence and abuse.

As we did in other interviews, we asked Danielle and Heather to help us focus in on the most salient issues facing these families. Some topics they shared were familiar, such as the need for transportation (logistics); guidance in navigating the complex ecosystem of publicly available services that cater to the needs of these families; daycare; trusting relationships; food stamps; and - of course - a place to call 'home'.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Another set of great insights! What sung out to me on this one was: "navigating the complex ecosystem of publicly available services that cater to the needs of these families" I think this can be an issue in low-income contexts in places like India and Nepal as well – plus understanding basic laws, rights and avenues to address issues around them. One of the things we've seen in the past on OpenIDEO has been Making Policy Public: We wonder what this kind of things might inspire for our upcoming Ideas phase – keeping in mind mixed levels of literacy and multiple languages in play.

Photo of Logan Powell

Thank you Meena! Your comments remind me of this TED talk:

Have you seen it?