One day a child may be thriving at school – and then something suddenly happens. Teachers and other adults in schools are often faced with situations where behaviors or more change with a child and they are unsure of the cause. No matter what the cause, is it is important to reach out to all children and families to see how you can help. When a child is hurting from a traumatic event in their life, it impacts their ability to stay focused on academics.
One possibility for changes in behavior or study habits can be becoming homeless. This may happen for a variety of reasons. An employer in the area may lay off a large number of workers. A big storm may destroy homes within a community. Fires may also be the reason families find themselves without a home. A child who has to worry about where they are going to sleep may not be able to focus in school.
School counselors need to stay on top of big community events which may impact children within their buildings. While it is impossible to know about everything that happens in a community, paying attention to the local news is a good start. If a child’s behavior has changed and nobody is sure about the cause, it is time to further investigate. Each school should have a plan of action.
Defining Homelessness and Federal Support to Schools
It is important that schools understand the federal definition of homelessness and what their legal responsibilities are. According to the McKinney-Vento Act, a child is considered homeless if they do not have a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Students who may fall into this include those who are sharing homes, living in a motel or campground, in a shelter, or sleeping in a location which is not a regular space for sleeping. This could also include parks, train stations, or other similar places in your area.
This definition assists those in schools to reach out to students in need. With the McKinney-Vento Act in place, districts must provide homeless children with transportation to and from school. They must also allow children to continue at their school of origin even if their family resides in a different location. In addition to this, school districts need to have a homeless liaison to work with individuals in schools so they understand the law and rights of students and their families.
With the increasing number of homeless students in the United States, this is an important topic which all schools need to be mindful of. At any time, a child may be in need and you must be aware of their legal rights. We’d like to hear from school therapists & staff – is the protocol in your school to assist a child who may be homeless?