Children and adolescents living without a permanent residence, with or without parent or guardian.
Homeless children face a daunting range of problems. A 1992 U.S. Department of Education report, Serving Homeless Children, stated: "...homeless children may have special social and emotional needs resulting from a destabilized, disrupted, or confused family life. These needs may be amplified in situations where homeless children are ridiculed and stigmatized at school."
Researchers have noted a range of problems among the population of homeless children, including:
- physical problems: hunger and poor nutrition; lack of or inadequate access to medical and dental care; lack of or inadequate immunization, leading to susceptibility to disease; lack of or inadequate hygiene; lack of or inadequate sleep; and susceptibility to illness and infection.
- behavior problems: antisocial behavior, disruptive behavior, and inadequate social skills such as the inability to share and the tendency to develop inappropriate relationships with adults.
- academic problems: irregular attendance at school; lack of an appropriate study space where homework can be done; lack of access to library resources or reference books at home.
Adolescents who are homeless are often runaways or "throwaways" (adolescents who have left home with the encouragement or tacit approval of their parent). They cannot stay in shelters set up for homeless families because they have no parent, and they are not allowed to stay in shelters for adults because of their age. Thus, adolescents are often drawn to settings where they will come into contact with drug and alcohol abusers. Researchers estimate that a quarter of homeless adolescents in large cities engage in prostitution, trading sex for money or drugs.
EDUCATING HOMELESS CHILDREN
Prior to 1987, school districts and communities enforced local laws that barred homeless children from enrolling in school—without a permanent residence they were ineligible for enrollment in public schools. In July 1987, the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act was passed by the U.S. Congress, stating that "homelessness alone should not be sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment." In addition to providing emergency assistance for people without a safe residence, the Act requires states to provide homeless children and adolescents with access to public education. Communities and school systems complete a grant application to receive assistance for their homeless population. Despite the passage of this statute, homeless children still face many challenges in getting an education, such as gaining access to bus transportation and meeting immunization and other requirements for enrollment. To address these issues, in 1990 Congress passed amendments to the Act that required states to actively support the education of homeless children. However, by 1997, experts estimated that only a small percentage of communities that were providing education to homeless children were receiving economic assistance under the provisions of the McKinney Act.
In 1989, U.S. Department of Education estimated that 220,000 school-age children were homeless; in 1990, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimated that 450,000 children (of all ages) were homeless; in 1994, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that 317,000 school-age children were homeless; but the Children's Defense Fund estimated the number of school-aged homeless children to be much higher—1.6 million.
See also Running Away
Anderson, Leslie M., et al. An Evaluation of State and Local Efforts to Serve the Educational Needs of Homeless Chldren and Youth. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1995.
Mark, Mary Ellen. A Cry for Help: Stories of Homelessness. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
Schwartz, Wendy. A Guide to Promoting Children's Education in Homeless Families. New York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, 1995.
——. School Programs and Practices for Homeless Students. New York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, 1995.
Stonge, James H. ed. Educating Homeless Children and Adolescents: Evaluating Policy and Practice. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992.
Bassuk, E. "Homeless Families." Scientific American, December 1991, pp. 66-74.
Eddowes, E. Anne. "School Providing Safer Environments for Homeless Children." Childhood Education 70, Annual 1994, pp. 271+.
Reganick, Karol A. "Prognosis for Homeless Children and Adolescents."Childhood Education 73, Spring 1997, pp. 133+.
Serving Homeless Children: The Responsibilities of Educators. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1992.
Swick, Kevin J. "Teacher Strategies for Supporting Homeless Students and Families." The Clearing House 69, May-June 1996, pp. 293+.
Woods, Cyndy Jones, and Darwin Harrison. "A Magnet for Homeless Students: The Thomas J. Pappas Regional Education Center." The Clearing House 68, November-December 1994, pp. 123+.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Address: 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 550
Arlington, VA 22201
Telephone: toll-free (800) THE-LOST [843-5678];
National Clearinghouse on Runaway and Homeless Youth
Address: P.O. Box 13505
Silver Spring, MD 20911-3505
Telephone: (301) 608-8098
National Law Center of Homeless and Poverty
Address: 918 F St., NW, Number 412
Washington, DC 20004
Telephone: (202) 638-2535
National Network of Runaway and Homeless Youth Services
Address: 1319 F St., NW, Suite 201
Washington, DC 20004
Telephone: (202) 783-7949