ERIC Identifier: ED340148
Publication Date: 1991-11-00
Author: Heflin, L. Juane
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Developing Effective Programs for Special Education Students
Who Are Homeless. ERIC Digest #E504.
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act (P. L. 100-77), defines
homeless individuals as those who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime
residence; have a primary nighttime residence that is (a) a supervised, publicly
or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living
accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional
housing for the mentally ill); (b) an institution that provides a temporary
residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or (c) a public or
private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping
accommodation for human beings.
There are between 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 homeless individuals in the United
States (Tower & White, 1989). Almost 90% of homeless families are headed by
females. Women and children represent up to one-half of the homeless population
(Bassuk & Rosenberg, 1988), and the average age of the homeless child is six
years. (Kozol, 1990).
The decade of the eighties heralded a deterioration of services available to
individuals who are homeless. Dramatic fiscal cuts in federal welfare programs
have reduced funding for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), food
stamp, and nutrition programs (Hope & Young, 1986). During the Reagan
administration, nearly half a million families lost all welfare payments, a
million people lost usage of food stamp programs, and two million children were
deleted from school lunch programs. The Women, Infant and Children (WIC)
nutrition program is unable to provide services to even half of the individuals
who meet their eligibility criteria (Kozol). In addition, economic circumstances
and no-fault divorce laws are generating a rapid increase in the number of
families who find themselves homeless.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF HOMELESSNESS ON CHILDREN?
homelessness is potentially devastating to anyone, it appears to have the most
detrimental effects on children and youth. Homeless children have more health
problems than matched children of low socioeconomic status who are living at
home. Homeless families typically do not seek health services for their children
until the child's health forces them to do so. One-fourth to one-third of
homeless individuals have chronic health problems (Wasem, 1989). In comparison
to low socioeconomic status children living at home, homeless children are three
times more likely to exhibit elevated lead levels (Alperstein, Rappaport, & Flanigan, 1988). Research indicates that elevated lead levels may produce
neurologic functioning deficits, leading to serious educational implications for
children who are homeless.
WHAT ARE THE EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF
Educational intervention has unfortunately proven to be an
elusive opportunity for many homeless children and youth. It is estimated that
43% of homeless school-aged children do not attend school (Ely, 1987). The
inability to meet specific enrollment criteria such as residency requirements,
guardianship rights, presentation of previous school records, and documentation
of medical history, including inoculation records, act as a barrier to exclude
students who are homeless from school attendance. In addition, students who are
homeless may not have transportation or school supply resources.
Homeless children and youth who do make their way into the education systems
may exhibit unsatisfactory school progress. Research indicates that students who
are homeless have a greater chance of encountering difficulty in making
transitions, being successful with academic tasks, interacting positively with
peers, and demonstrating a healthy self-concept (Stronge & Tenhouse, 1990).
In a study conducted in Boston, it was found that 40% of the students were
failing or performing below average work, 25% were in special classes, and 43%
had repeated one grade (Bassuk & Rubin, 1987). Homeless children are also
more likely to develop behavior problems than their peers (Bassuk &
Rosenberg). Although clearly at risk for academic failure, the transient nature
of most homeless students makes the time consuming task of assessment and
referral for special services almost impossible. Given the high percentages of
homeless students experiencing school problems, it can be inferred that students
who could be eligible for special education services are not receiving such
because of their homelessness.
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act (P. L. 100-77), passed in
1987, is the most comprehensive emergency aid program for America's homeless.
Included in the Act are policies and procedures for guaranteeing the provision
of educational services. The educational portion of the law, Title VII-B, is
administered by the U.S. Department of Education. This educational subtitle
guarantees children and youth who are homeless the same access to elementary and
secondary education as children who are not homeless. The Act discourages
districts from using residency, guardianship, or other enrollment criteria to
prevent a student from attending school. According to the McKinney Act, each
state must appoint a coordinator for the education of homeless children and
youth, who, among other activities, must identify special educational needs of
the homeless. If they meet eligibility requirements, students who are homeless
must be offered special services such as compensatory educational programs,
special education programs, services for the gifted and talented, programs for
students whose native language is not English, vocational education programs,
and school meal programs (Stronge & Tenhouse). In 1990, the Stewart B.
McKinney Homeless Assistance Act was again reauthorized and strengthened in its
ability to meet the educational needs of children and youth who are homeless.
WHAT'S THE EDUCATOR'S ROLE IN ALLEVIATING THE
Children and youth need to learn to overcome the potentially cyclic
and devastating effects of a homeless situation. An appropriate education is the
most promising intervention available. As directed by federal precedents and the
continuous work of advocates, schools must increase their efforts to meet the
needs of homeless students, including those who need special services to benefit
from their educational opportunities. Realistically, schools must recognize that
homeless children and youth bring with them a variety of preexisting hindrances.
Emotional stress, behavioral disorders, physical anomalies, poor health, and
developmental delays created by a transient lifestyle, as well as cognitive
deficits due to missed schooling, inhibit the ability to learn.
Interagency collaboration is essential to developing effective services for
homeless students. Issues such as education, health care, mental health,
housing, and alcohol or other drug abuse can be addressed through a coordinated,
multidisciplinary approach. It is important for schools to provide a referral
system, designating someone with knowledge of area resources who can provide
students with referrals to appropriate agencies. In addition, schools can
provide remediation and tutoring of basic skills, after school and extended day
services, awareness training for personnel, and program continuity and
stability. Teachers can assist students who are homeless by providing personal
space--space in the school that is the student's own and marking the space with
a symbol of the student's identity; supporting identity development; and
establishing a structured environment. School personnel must learn to plan for
and incorporate homeless students into their programs for whatever period of
time the students are able to attend.
Alperstein, G., Rappaport, C., & Flanigan,
J. (1988). "Health Problems of Homeless Children in New York City." In American
Journal of Public Health, 78(9), 1232-1233.
Bassuk, F. & Rosenberg, L. (1988). "Why Does Family Homelessness Occur?"
In American Journal of Public Health, 78, 783-88.
Bassuk, F. & Rubin, L. (1987). "Homeless Children: A Neglected
Population." In American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57(2), 279-286.
Ely, L. (1987). "Broken Lives: Denial of Education to Homeless Children."
Washington, DC: National Coalition for the Homeless. (ED 292897)
Heflin, L. J., & Rudy, K. (1991). "Homeless and in Need of Special
Education." Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Hope, M. & Young, J. (1986). "The Faces of Homelessness." Lexington, MA:
Lexington. (ED 309233)
Kozol, J. (1990). "The New Untouchables." In Newsweek Special Issue, 114(27),
Maza, P. L. & Hall, J. A. (1988). "Homeless Children and Their Families.
A Preliminary Study." Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America. (ED
Phillips, M., DeChillo, N., Kronenfeld, D., & Middleton-Jeter, V. (1989).
"Homeless Families: Services Make a Difference." In Social Casework, 34(1),
Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, (P.L. 100-77). (July 22, 1987).
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. (ED 286117)
Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Amendments Act of 1988, (P.L.
100-628). (November 7, 1988). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Health Care, Education, Training, and Community
Services Admendments of 1990 (August 30, 1990). (Report to accompany S. 2863,
Senate, 101st Congress, 2d Session). Washington, DC: Senate Committee on Labor
and Human Resources. (ED 325563)
Stronge, J. H. & Tenhouse, C. (1990). "Educating Homeless Children:
Issues and Answers." Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
Tower, C. C. & White, D. J. (1989). "Homeless Students." Washington, DC:
National Education Association. (ED 311338)
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. (1989). The 1988
National Survey of Shelters for the Homeless. Washington, DC: Author.
Wasem, R. E. (1989). "Homelessness: Issues and Legislation in the 101st
Congress." (CRS Publication No. IB88070). Washington, DC: Library of Congress.
This digest is based on information published in Homeless and in Need of
Special Education by L. J. Heflin and K. Rudy, 1991, available from The Council
for Exceptional Children, 1920 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091-1589.