ERIC Identifier: ED356099
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Goins, Brad - Cesarone, Bernard
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Homeless Children: Meeting the Educational Challenges. ERIC
Parents and their children can become homeless as a result of unemployment,
domestic violence, eviction, or other causes. Estimates of the number of
homeless children range from 300,000 to 1.6 million (Portner, 1992). No accurate
estimate exists due to the practical difficulties involved in locating and
tracking homeless families.
DIFFICULTIES FACED BY HOMELESS CHILDREN AND THEIR
Homeless children, like all children, have different levels of
resilience. The length of time without a home, the reasons for homelessness, the
availability of support systems, and the age, sex, and temperament of the child
all contribute to a particular child's reaction to being homeless. For many
children, the stress of homeless life frequently causes high levels of
depression and anxiety and low self-esteem. Many children deal with these
emotional states by engaging in either aggressive or withdrawn behavior. Other
more specific behaviors, such as truancy, hyperactivity, dependent behaviors, or
underachievement, may become pronounced. Lack of nutrition and lack of sleep,
the latter caused by the noise of shelters or the child's stress level, often
result in cognitive difficulties in reading and calculating and in difficulties
in concentrating. Suicidal feelings are common among children over 5 years of
age (Rosenman and Stein, 1990).
Feelings of shame or embarrassment usually accompany homelessness. Parents
are often embarrassed about the child's homeless status, and children frequently
fear that they may be stigmatized by their classmates if their homeless status
becomes known. Because of the psychological and cognitive difficulties they
face, and the stresses of living in shelters, homeless children often need
special counseling and other forms of assistance if they are to succeed in
CHALLENGES TO EDUCATORS
For almost every homeless child,
schools face the following challenges:
1. Keeping the child in one school, or a minimal number of schools, in spite
of the family's frequent moves or the fact that the child has no permanent
2. Ensuring that the child's health records are obtained and keeping all the
child's records intact. (Homeless children's parents often have difficulty
obtaining required health records. When children move from school to school,
records sometimes get lost.)
3. Providing a quiet time to compensate for the stressful noise of shelters
and to allow the child to do homework.
4. Providing transportation.
In certain situations, schools may also need to provide help in obtaining
access to laundries or to clean clothing, special and gifted education, or
The McKinney Act of 1987 (Public Law
100-77) calls for every homeless child to have access to free education and
provides funds for the provision of this education. The act, which was amended
in 1988 and 1990, mandates that states review their school residency laws and
revise any laws that prevent homeless children from receiving public education.
If a child moves during the school year, the act mandates that the child either
be allowed to remain in his or her first school, or move to a school in the new
district, whichever is in the child's best interest. Parents' opinions are to be
considered in the process of deciding which school the child is to attend.
Homeless children are to receive school services that are comparable to those
other children receive. School districts must maintain homeless children's
records and expedite their transfer as necessary. Schools are prohibited from
delaying a homeless child's entry into school due to delays in obtaining school
records. The act provides a grant for each state board of education to establish
an office of the Coordinator of Education of Homeless Children and Youth
The 1990 amendments to the act (Public Law 101-645) mandate that all state
plans for implementation of programs for homeless children address the issues of
transportation; immunization, residency, and guardianship requirements; and
requirements for birth certificates, and school and health records. The
amendments also call for the provision of coordinated and comprehensive services
to homeless children and their families (Center for Law and Education, 1991).
SOLUTIONS FOR EDUCATORS
At the very least, every school and
school district should follow the guidelines of the McKinney Act in eliminating
obstacles to the enrollment of homeless children in school. Homeless children
should receive the help they need to obtain any required immunizations.
Arrangements can be made to provide immunizations on-site as is necessary.
Cumbersome residency or guardianship requirements, or other requirements
regarding birth certificates or other records, can be waived or altered,
depending on the student's situation.
Once the homeless child's ability to attend school is guaranteed, educators
need to take measures to help homeless children succeed in their education in
spite of the tremendous obstacles they face. Practices that are likely to be
helpful in these efforts are: 1. Coordinating social services for homeless
children, 2. Educating children about homelessness and encouraging empathy for
the homeless, 3. Providing counseling for both the homeless and any classmates
who ridicule them (Rosenman and Stein, 1990), 4. Providing a place for children
to go between the time school closes and the time the shelter opens, 5.
Providing housing specialists who will work with shelters in order to improve
children's housing, 6. Using a computerized tracking system to coordinate
homeless children's records, including health records, and their movements from
shelter to shelter or from school to school. (Schools can promise to keep all
information about addresses confidential in order to reduce the risk of
It is important to keep in mind that homeless children should not merely be
tolerated; they should be INCLUDED in the educational setting. Homeless children
need positive peer relationships and friendships. Teachers ought to be aware of
the degree to which homeless children are accepted within the group and take
measures to assure that homeless children are included in the culture of the
classroom in positive ways. Teachers can use such strategies of inclusion as
peer pairing, the use of cooperative learning groups, acceptance of diversity,
and promotion of friendship development.
Several communities have
established special TRANSITIONAL SCHOOLS for homeless children. These schools
offer homeless children "intensive and individualized care for a short time,"
after which the children are mainstreamed into regular schools (Portner, 1992).
Advocates of this approach maintain that it gives homeless children the chance
to receive individual instruction in an atmosphere that is "psychologically
safe" (Portner, 1992). But critics fear that specialized schools may actually
increase the stigmatization of homeless children.
Some programs for homeless children that are located in public schools use a
CASE MANAGEMENT APPROACH. In these programs, a case manager works to coordinate
school staff, counselors, shelter workers, and health care and family support
services in a comprehensive effort to see that the children's basic needs are
met. The case manager may help the homeless child's parents negotiate daunting
procedures and requirements of service agencies, or may arrange for needed
services to be provided at the school or shelter. Case managers also provide
parents with access to resources concerning health, housing, counseling, or any
other area of concern. The case manager may be a social worker who is hired on a
full-time basis by the school that is housing the program (James, 1991).
Seattle's B.F. Day Elementary School features both a transitional school,
First Place, and a case management approach, Kids Organized on Learning in
School (KOOL-IS). For more information, contact B.F. Day Elementary School, 3921
Linden Avenue N, Seattle, WA 98103, 206-281-6340, or see Portner and James
Comprehensive approaches to educating homeless children can be geared to
intervene with the entire family of the homeless child. Schools or programs can
offer parents adult education (GED, literacy) or job training, or can direct
parents to programs that already offer these services to homeless adults. If
there are younger siblings, public preschool education for children-at-risk, or
federally funded Head Start programs, can be contacted. Older siblings who have
dropped out of school should be encouraged to enter alternative school programs.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
C Street NW
Connecticut Avenue NW
Arizona Department of Education. HOMELESS, NOT
HELPLESS: ENSURING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY FOR AMERICA'S HOMELESS CHILDREN AND YOUTH. A POSITION DOCUMENT OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE COORDINATORS FOR THE EDUCATION OF HOMELESS CHILDREN AND YOUTH. Phoenix, AZ: Author, 1991.
Center for Law and Education. SUPPLEMENT TO MATERIALS ON THE EDUCATION OF
HOMELESS CHILDREN. Cambridge, MA: Author, 1991. ED 344 822.
James, William H., and others. HOMELESSNESS: ITS IMPACT ON AFRICAN AMERICAN
CHILDREN, YOUTH AND FAMILIES. 1991. ED 342 510.
Portner, Jessica. "Schooling the Homeless. Few Programs Address the Daunting
Challenge." EDUCATION WEEK v12, n14 (December 9, 1992): 1, 14-15.
Rosenman, Mark, and Stein, Mary Lee. "Homeless Children: A New
Vulnerability," in HOMELESS CHILDREN: THE WATCHERS AND THE WAITERS, Nancy A.
Boxill, ed. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, 1990. 89-110. ED 325 554.
Strong, Penny. THE RIGHTS OF HOMELESS CHILDREN. Springfield, Illinois:
Illinois State Board of Education, 1991. ED 352 205.