Monday, March 25, 2013

1987 McKinney-Vento Act: Protecting the Educational Rights of Homeless Children

Over a million homeless children are in need of educational assistance in the United States.
The 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides that support.

Families with young children now account for 40% of the nation's homeless population and in the course of the year, more than 1.3 million children are homeless. 
(Source: National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty) 

During my school guidance practicum at the middle school this week, I learned about a federal law and educational resources available to homeless children. These services are provided by the The Office for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. The law is called the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and it was passed in 1987 to protect the educational rights of homeless children who who are not able to advocate for themselves.

McKinney-Vento makes provisions for each school district to have a  McKinney-Vento Liaison who helps locate homeless children and their families to provide them with educational support and referrals to local services and agencies.

One in every 45 children in the U.S. is homeless each year. 
(Source: America’s Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness, National Center on Family Homelessness)

Homeless children lead unpredictable lives. For most, school provides them with the only sense of stability they know, and often the only two meals they'll see during the day. Everything -- their relationships, academics, behavior, physical and emotional health and safety are affected by the transient lives they lead. Think about it for a second. How could a homeless child concentrate enough to learn or be able to develop meaningful relationships if they're hungry and constantly on the move?

Over 40% of the children who are homeless are under the age of five. Ten percent of all children live in poverty.
(Source: National Center for Homeless Education) 

What causes homelessness for many of these children? Following are a few of the most common causes per the Office for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth:
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Deep poverty
  • Health problems
  • Domestic violence
  • Natural and other disasters
  • Abuse/neglect

During my research for this post, I found two great videos. This first one was put together by a group of students who interviewed several McKinney-Vento Liaisons. It's inspiring and illustrates how much these educators care about the children and families in their districts.

So what are homeless children's McKinney-Vento Rights?
  • To go to school, no matter where they live or how long they have lived there.
  • To stay in their original or last school even if they move to another.
  • To get transportation to their original school.
  • To immediately enroll in a new school.
  • To automatically receive free breakfast and lunch at school.
  • To receive Title I services.
  • To receive all the educational and supplemental services that all other children are provided.

In Massachusetts they also have:
  • The right to immediate enrollment.
  • The right to choose what school to attend.
  • The right to transportation.
  • The right to participate in the same programs and activities as other students.

This next video was produced by the Anoka-Hennepin school district discusses McKinney-Vento and how students are identified.

The video outlines the warning signs that educators should look for that might suggest a student is homeless:
  • Erratic behavior and attendance
  • Tardiness
  • Numerous absences
  • Lack of personal records needed to enroll
  • Inability to contact parents
  • Lack of participation in school activities and field trips
  • Unmet medical and dental needs
  • Lack of immunization or medical records
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Respiratory problems
  • Skin rashes
  • Chronic Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Disengagement in class
  • Isolation from former friends
  • Mood swings
  • Abrupt changes in behavior
(Source: Anoka-Hennepin McKinney-Vento Homeless Grant Video)

School guidance counselors and all other educators, from the school bus driver to the cafeteria worker, who come in contact with children at school, are charged with helping to identify these children. I encourage you to find out who the McKinney-Vento Liaison is in your district and ask them if there are any school supplies, book bags or other items you might be able to donate.

Please visit the following sites to learn more about McKinney-Vento and homeless children and youth: