Answer: No. The McKinney-Vento Act requires states and school districts to:
“review and revise, policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools” (42 USC 11432(g)(1)(I))
A blanket reporting obligation— that all unaccompanied youth must be reported to child welfare — will create a grave barrier to the identification, enrollment, and retention of unaccompanied youth in school. Based on many conversations with unaccompanied youth, as well as research, we know that the mere fact that a report is made is enough to keep youth away from school. We have heard many examples of students disappearing from school when they found out a child welfare report had been made. A policy-advocacy group of homeless youth in CA put child welfare reporting as their number one concern and barrier to accessing services. Some studies indicate that as few as 1 in 12 homeless youth access services due primarily to fears of being reported to child welfare and/or police. In addition, surveys we have completed with unaccompanied youth across the country always show fear of a child welfare report to be among the top two barriers preventing youth from seeking services. A 2016 study found similar results.
In sum, blanket reporting violates the McKinney-Vento Act because it creates a barrier to identification, enrollment and retention in school. Even if state laws require reporting of unaccompanied youth, there is a constitutional requirement that federal law supersedes state law when there is a conflict. (This requirement is found in the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.) In this situation, a state law requirement to report actually creates a barrier to enrollment under the McKinney-Vento Act. Schools must follow the McKinney-Vento Act over state law
If a child or youth is in danger due to current abuse, then educators probably do need to make a child welfare agency referral. But youth are unaccompanied for many different reasons, and they stay in many different living situations, and not all of them rise to the level of a child welfare report. Case-by-case reporting based on what is actually, currently going on with the youth makes sense and is necessary, and wouldn’t be a barrier to enrollment any more than providing a youth with any kind of medical or other treatment the youth needs on an emergency basis. We also always suggest liaisons and other school staff talk with youth prior to making any report, letting the youth know about mandatory reporting and giving the youth the option to decide what to reveal and discuss, knowing the consequences of a possible child welfare referral. It gives the youth some self-determination and control over their own lives.