Homelessness & Foster Care
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania's Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program was established to make sure homeless youth have access to a free and appropriate public education while removing barriers that homeless children face. Its goal is to have the educational process continue as uninterrupted as possible while the children are in homeless situations. If you are in need of assistance in this area, families are encouraged to see their counselor at school.
McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001.
On July 22, 1987, the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act became public law. This was the first comprehensive federal law dealing with the problems of homelessness in America. Recently included in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, it is now called the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001.
The Education for Homeless Children and Youths (EHCY) program, authorized under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento Act), is designed to address the needs of homeless children and youths and ensure educational rights and protections for these children and youths. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) amended the McKinney-Vento Act, and changes made by the ESSA will take effect on October 1, 2016.
Pennsylvania's Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program State Plan:
- Informs school districts of their responsibility to homeless children and youth;
- Provides policies that bring the state into compliance with federal law; and
- Outlines assurances to be sure homeless students have equal access to a quality education.
The goal of the program is to ensure homeless children and youth are provided with a free and appropriate public education on an equal basis with all other children in the state. Program objectives and activities are intended to remove and/or ease the barriers to enrollment and educational success for homeless children.
Some key components of the State Plan, as quoted from the McKinney-Vento Act are:
- Each state educational agency shall ensure that each child of a homeless individual and each homeless youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths.
- In any state that has a compulsory residency requirement as a component of the state's compulsory school attendance laws or other laws, regulations, practices, or policies that may act as a barrier to the enrollment, attendance, or success in school of homeless children and youths, the state will review and undertake steps to revise such laws, regulations, practices, or policies to ensure that homeless children and youths are afforded the same free, appropriate public education as provided to other children and youths.
- Homelessness alone is not sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment.
- Homeless children and youths should have access to the education and other services that such children and youths need to ensure that such children and youths have an opportunity to meet the same challenging state student academic achievement standards to which all students are held.
Children are considered to be experiencing homelessness and are entitled to the protections of the federal law in a variety of situations, such as:
- children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals;
- children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
- children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings;
- “migratory children” who qualify as homeless under federal law because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii) above. The term "migratory children" means children who are (or whose parent(s) or spouse(s) are) migratory agricultural workers, including migratory dairy workers or migratory fishermen, and who have moved from one school district to another in the preceding 36 months, in order to obtain (or accompany such parents or spouses in order to obtain) temporary or seasonal employment in agricultural or fishing work; and,
- "Unaccompanied homeless youth" including any child who is "not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian." This includes youth who have run away from home, been thrown out of their home, been abandoned by parents or guardians, or separated from their parents for any other reason.
Communication and collaboration among education and child welfare professionals is critical to support school stability and continuity for children in out-of-home care. The law requires child welfare and local education agencies to work together to promote school stability and continuity including trying to ensure children remain in the school in which they were enrolled at the time of placement when it is in their best interest. Best practice would suggest that decisions be made collaboratively between school personnel, child welfare agencies and any other individual involved in the child’s case including the child, resource parent, child advocate and attorney. It is imperative that caseworkers and school district administration and staff work together to help ensure the educational progress of all students.
Under the Pennsylvania Education for Homeless Children and Youth State Plan, homeless children are defined as “children living with a parent in a domestic violence shelter; runaway children and children, and youth who have been abandoned or forced out of their home by parents or other caretakers; and school-aged parents living in houses for school-aged parents if they have no other available living accommodations.”
The McKinney-Vento Act states that it is the policy of Congress that state educational agencies shall ensure that each child of a homeless individual and each homeless youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths 42 U.S.C. § 11431. Specifically, 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g) (3) (A) indicates that the local educational agency (LEA) shall, according to the child’s best interest: In accordance with Section 722 (g) (3) (B) (ii), the local educational agency:
- must presume that keeping a homeless child or youth in the school of origin is in the child’s or youth’s best interest unless doing so is contrary to the request of the child’s or youth’s parent or guardian, or (in the case of an unaccompanied youth) the youth;
- must consider student-centered factors related to a child’s or youth’s best interest, giving priority to the request of the child’s or youth’s parent or guardian, or (in the case of an unaccompanied youth) the youth; or
- if the LEA determines that it is not in a child’s or youth’s best interest to attend the school of origin, or the school requested by the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth, it must provide a written explanation of the reasons for its determination, in a manner and form that is understandable.
According to the McKinney-Vento Act the term "school of origin" means the school the child or youth attended when permanently housed, or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g) (3) (G).