Heading back to school is an exciting, hectic time. The daily schedule of millions of children in the United States is flipped as they get back to learning. For children experiencing homelessness, however, this time of year can represent a difficult point of readjustment.
Getting to school and back, knowing that there is a consistent place to sleep every night, and getting necessary school supplies are just some of the difficulties that youth experiencing homelessness face.
School supply drives are very popular and you might have seen one popping up in places around your neighborhood. These are important and ensure that teachers have a ready supply to provide to students whose families may be struggling. Supplies are only part of the equation, though. Schools, public and private, can put programs into practice to help support youth through their education. The stress of the difficulties mentioned above can make homework and testing overwhelming, lowering academic performance.
This brings up two other major issues: tracking and the awareness of school administrators. It can be difficult at times to determine if a child is experiencing homelessness. Often, they may feel ashamed and reluctant to let their teachers know. In other cases, if the teacher is overworked and underfunded, it may never come to their attention. Organizations such as Communities in Schools can help shore up this lack of support, but it comes down to what resources the school has and how they are keeping track of their students.
Schools also have a youth homelessness liaison through the McKinney-Vento Act, who serve as one of the primary contacts between homeless families and school staff, district personnel, shelter workers, and other service providers. These liaisons coordinate services to ensure that youth experiencing homelessness enroll in school and have a chance to succeed academically.
There are ways to help, even if you’re not employed by the school. This tip sheet from the Colorado Department of Education suggests building up relationships between the community and schools by advocating for children experiencing homelessness, providing educational materials to schools and local businesses, conducting a school supply or school clothing drive, and volunteering for an after-school program. School can be an essential lifeline for youth experiencing homelessness, but they need support from all of us.
We at the National Runaway Safeline know how important school is for providing a support system for youth, as well as giving them opportunities for the future. NRS offers the Let’s Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum to service providers and educators for free, an evidence-based curriculum that teaches youth resiliency skills and the alternatives to running away. If you are an educator and interested in utilizing this curriculum, click here to find out more.