Educational Barriers for Pennsylvania's Children and Youth Experiencing Homelesness

The following section lists the barriers identified by the Pennsylvania Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program and briefly explains each barrier. Policies, procedures and strategies are only as effective as our ability to use them within the daily activities of schools and shelters. Common information must be shared by all players, at all levels--from the superintendent down to the admitting secretary and out into the shelters and key community agencies.

 

Homeless Student Plan Outlines Top 10 Barriers

1) Residency and Guardianship Requirements and Other School Enrollment and Attendance Laws and Regulations
Pennsylvania’s Public School Code of 1949, the State Board of Education attendance regulations and the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act ensure Pennsylvania’s homeless children access to free education. Local school districts must determine how their policies and procedures may conflict and make necessary adjustments to decrease barriers to school access. The Pa. ECYEH Program Regional and Site Coordinators are available for assistance in revising and updating policies and procedures related to homeless students – see the contact listing and other resources at the end of this booklet. You can find examples on several of the region’s web pages of sample policies and procedures for working effectively with homeless youth.

2) Lack of Coordination, Collaboration and Cooperation
In some Pennsylvania communities, providers and school district administrators express frustration with a lack of communication, cooperation and follow-up, which results in delays, an inability to track homeless students, overlapping services, and ultimately, underserved and unserved students. The Pa.
ECYEH Program Regional and Site Coordinators are available to assist you in working through these situations and to provide contact information for available agencies and resources to help you effectively serve homeless students and their families.

3) Lack of Program Continuity and Delays in Educational Evaluation/Placement
Some students have attended five or more different schools in a given year. Frequent absenteeism is common. This irregular school attendance hampers the child’s educational progress and may interrupt important assessment procedures necessary for a student receiving special or supportive educational programs. It may prevent the student from having the opportunity to meet the same challenging, local and state performance standards all students are expected to meet. For further information and resources regarding truancy prevention, visit the online Pennsylvania Truancy Toolkit at www.patruancytoolkit.info. You can contact the
Pa. ECYEH Program Regional and Site Coordinators to explore options to ensure appropriate educational services and programs are provided for homeless youth.

4) Lack of Transportation to Stay in the School of Origin
The State and its Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are required to adopt policies and practices to ensure that transportation is provided, at the request of the parent or guardian (or in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the liaison), to and from the school of origin. If the homeless student continues to live in the area served by the LEA in which the school of origin is located, that LEA must provide or arrange transportation. If the homeless student moves to an area served by another LEA, though continuing his or her education at the school of origin, the LEA of origin and the LEA in which the student is living must agree upon a method to apportion responsibility and costs for transportation to the school of origin. If the LEAs cannot agree upon such a method, the responsibility and costs must be shared equally. For more information about addressing transportation barriers, visit http://homeless.center-school.org to request the publication entitled “Child Accounting Guidelines” which outlines the rights/responsibilities related to transportation of homeless students, but also describes potential situations and solutions to transportation questions. The
Pa. ECYEH Program Regional and Site Coordinators can also help you identify solutions to transportation issues related to homeless youth. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Division of Subsidy Data and Administration at (717) 787-3195 can assist in determining effective transportation strategies.

5) Delays in Academic and Health Records
Families experiencing a crisis which results in a loss of home and belongings, and/or youth living on their own or estranged from their homes, often are unable to produce school records. When the response for records is slow or delayed, it results in a barrier for the homeless student and school staff who need to make decisions based on known information. This is especially true for students with special needs. Faxing has facilitated the process, along with telephoning health officials to verify immunization records. Contact the
ECYEH Regional or Site Coordinator for your area if there are any questions or concerns related to the immediate enrollment of homeless students and/or accessing academic/health records to facilitate that enrollment.

6) Lack of Awareness Among School Personnel of the Pervasiveness of Homelessness
Educators need more information about the numbers of homeless children on their rolls, and how the conditions of homelessness affect their ability to learn, socialize and cope with everyday circumstances. Because of ongoing changes in school district personnel, there is a need for continuous education to further sensitize staff to the multiple aspects of the homeless problem. School personnel must have a common understanding of the relationship between homelessness and the impact of risk factors on the child’s education in order to begin the process of nurturing resiliency and building more effective classroom environments for all children. Teachers also need to be encouraged to attend in-services on homelessness when available. Various professional development opportunities are provided on the local, regional and state level by the network of Pa.
ECYEH Program Regional and Site Coordinators and other statewide entities. For instance, an annual conference entitled “Meeting the Challenge: Educating Homeless Children in Pennsylvania,” is made available to both school and community partners working with or on behalf of homeless youth. For further information about upcoming training events, contact the regional or site coordinator for your area on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website or the Center for Schools and Communities.

7) Inadequate Parental Response to their Children’s Needs
Parents and guardians who are homeless often lack adequate, current information regarding the rights of their children to attend school. In addition, caretakers who are uncertain about tomorrow and concerned about basic needs — food, shelter — often do not view the education of their children as a priority. Parents need to know what actions they should take, be given the highest quality of support, and be given the encouragement and guidance needed to enroll and maintain their children in school.

8) The Social Stigma Associated with Homelessness
Homeless students and their families may be reluctant to share information about their life situation. Parents may be embarrassed and fearful of reactions from school officials if their homelessness status were discovered. These things don’t have to occur, though, if the lines of communication are open with shelters, agencies, schools and local McKinney-Vento homeless sites. With proper staff training, all families can be welcomed into schools and shelters in a respectful manner. Schools and shelters, therefore, can help families to overcome the temporary disruption in their lives.

9) Transiency Among Families with Preschoolers Hinders Access to Service
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Act encourages the extension of program services to preschool age homeless children by clarifying activities that can be funded for these children. Local School District Homeless Liaisons are required to link eligible homeless preschoolers with educational programs such as Head Start, Even Start and other local preschool programs. But many of the families being served are living in shelters and motels and move frequently, often out of the geographical area that the program serves. Efforts need to be taken not only to identify and enroll homeless preschoolers, but to support the continuity of their early education experience amidst a life of transiency.

10) Lack of Access and Knowledge of Available Services for Unsheltered, Runaway and Chronically Homeless
There is a wide variety in terms of family background and makeup of homeless individuals. Many are experiencing the fears and stresses of homelessness for the first time, often having the homelessness come quickly and unexpectedly. In certain areas of the Commonwealth, a lack of knowledge of services bars the family from finding shelter, safety and peace of mind. Others, like runaway youth, are sometimes unwanted and find it hard to fit in anywhere, especially if no local runaway program is in operation. There are also homeless families who are chronically homeless and have used the “system,” often burning the bridges that could have helped them, and the children in these families may require assistance. Assistance with these situations and determining local available resources can be secured by contacting your area’s
Pa. ECYEH Program Regional or Site Coordinator listed at the back of this publication.