The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was first developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to assess the health risk behaviors of youth and adults in the United States. For the first time since the survey has been widely administered, the 2017 YRBS optional question list included two questions pertaining to homelessness. SchoolHouse Connection analyzed demographic and risk factor data from the YRBS in 17 states[i], comparing high school students experiencing homelessness and those not experiencing homelessness. This series shares the striking and heartbreaking results of that analysis, with tangible action steps schools can take to promote safety and health for students experiencing homelessness.

Part I: Prevalence, Identification, and Action Steps for Schools
Part II: Racial and Ethnic Equity: Disproportionality and Action Steps for Schools
Part III: Sexual Orientation Equity: Disproportionality and Action Steps for Schools

Part I: Prevalence, Identification, and Action Steps for Schools

[Download the PDF]

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was first developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to assess the health risk behaviors of youth and adults in the United States. For the first time since the survey has been widely administered, the 2017 YRBS optional question list included two questions pertaining to homelessness. SchoolHouse Connection analyzed demographic and risk factor data from the YRBS in 17 states[i], comparing high school students experiencing homelessness and those not experiencing homelessness. This series shares the striking and heartbreaking results of that analysis, with tangible action steps schools can take to promote safety and health for students experiencing homelessness.

SchoolHouse Connection’s analysis of YRBS data found that young people experience homelessness at an even higher rate than currently reported by the U.S. Department of Education. The YRBS indicates that 4.9% of high school students surveyed in the 17 states experienced homelessness at some point during the 2016-2017 school year.

In contrast, public schools reported only 2.27% of their high school students as experiencing homelessness. In other words, based on YRBS homelessness data, public schools are identifying only slightly more than half of high school students experiencing homelessness.

As many as one million students experiencing homelessness are not receiving services they need, and to which they are entitled under the federal McKinney-Vento Act.

Action Steps for Schools

1. Ensure that homeless liaisons, which the McKinney-Vento Act requires every school district and charter school to designate, have adequate capacity to lead comprehensive identification activities.[ii]

2. Provide annual training to school staff on the definition of homeless, signs of potential homelessness, and whom to contact if they believe a student may be experiencing homelessness.[iii] Training should include school counselors, registrars, teachers, bus drivers, resource officers, nurses, dropout prevention specialists, attendance officers, principals, and food service staff. Training should include trauma-informed practices to cultivate an environment that encourages students experiencing homelessness to self-identify. 

“Despite spending most of my middle and high school years sleeping on couches or in basements, I was not identified as a homeless student until the last two weeks of my senior year of high school. I did not have access to adequate transportation, which caused me to miss a lot of school. I was subject to disciplinary consequences due to frequent lateness and absences which jeopardized my grades. I didn’t have reliable access to a computer to do schoolwork, which caused my grades to suffer, and I was too embarrassed to explain the situation to my teachers. We didn’t have access to a stove or kitchen, so I went without adequate nutrition. Early identification would have saved me from a lot of stress and shame.”

K. F.

SchoolHouse Connection Young Leader

3. Avoid the word “homeless” when talking to students, caregivers, parents, and school staff. Use descriptive language and ask questions with discretion.

4. When talking with families experiencing homelessness, ask about babies or toddlers in the family. Connect young children to early intervention, Head Start, and preschool services.

5. Work with homeless service providers, social service agencies, drop-in centers, faith communities, food banks, campgrounds, low-cost motels, and other locations where families and youth experiencing homelessness may stay or receive services. Make special efforts to connect with groups that cater to teen parents, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ youth.

6. Post information about the educational rights of students experiencing homelessness on school and district websites, in school buildings, libraries, motels, campgrounds, and service provider locations.

7. Use behaviorally-informed email communications to increase identification.

8. Ask youth to help spread the word about the assistance schools can provide to students experiencing homelessness.

Resources:

  1. National Center for Homeless Education, Identifying Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness.
  2. Patricia Julianelle, Training videos for school staff.
  3. Project HOPE-Virginia, How to identify homeless students video.
  4. SchoolHouse Connection, Guidelines for Designating LEA-Level and Building-Level McKinney-Vento Liaisons.
  5. Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Downloadable posters and brochures in multiple languages.

[i] AK, AR, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, ME, MT, NH, NC, PA, VA, WI.
[ii] The McKinney-Vento Act requires that liaisons be “able to carry out the duties described” in the law, which includes ensuring that children and youth experiencing homelessness “are identified by school personnel through outreach and coordination activities with other entities and agencies.”
[ii] The McKinney-Vento Act requires that liaisons ensure “school personnel providing services under th[e] subtitle receive professional development and other support.”

Part II: Racial and Ethnic Equity: Disproportionality and Action Steps for Schools

[Download the PDF]

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was first developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to assess the health risk behaviors of youth and adults in the United States. For the first time since the survey has been widely administered, the 2017 YRBS optional question list included two questions pertaining to homelessness. SchoolHouse Connection analyzed demographic and risk factor data from the YRBS in 17 states[i], comparing high school students experiencing homelessness and those not experiencing homelessness. This series shares the striking and heartbreaking results of that analysis, with tangible action steps schools can take to promote safety and health for students experiencing homelessness.

SchoolHouse Connection’s analysis of YRBS data found that Black and Hispanic high school students are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness. Twenty percent of high school students experiencing homelessness identify as Black or African-American, compared to 15% of all high school students. 31.7% of high school students experiencing homelessness identify as Hispanic or Latino, compared to 22.6% of all high school students.

These data mean that Black high school students are 2.67 times more likely to experience homelessness, and Hispanic high school students are 1.68 times more likely to experience homelessness, than White high school students.

The YRBS homelessness data described above include high school students who experience homelessness as part of families, as well as high school students who are homeless by themselves. Studies of unaccompanied homeless youth that also include young adults have found similar disproportionalities for both racial and ethnic minorities. In schools, racial and ethnic equity requires a deliberate, district-wide commitment over time.

Action Steps for Schools

1. Adopt positive school discipline policies district-wide. Students experiencing homelessness are subjected to punitive discipline measures much more often than their housed peers. The risk of suspension or expulsion increases exponentially for students of color experiencing homelessness.

Positive or restorative justice policies, in place of traditional punitive models, can reduce victimization of students of color. Punitive models disproportionately harm students of color, who are more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system due to offenses that occur in school. Punitive models also fail to address the systemic problems underlying school misconduct and lead to alienation by interfering with school relationships that promote achievement. In contrast, restorative justice practices bring together individuals affected by misconduct in a communal, trauma-informed, non-hierarchical dialogue about the consequences of harm, providing them an opportunity to discuss what is to be done to repair the situation.

2. Develop and implement a school district or charter school data-driven Racial and Ethnic Justice Action Plan. The Plan should be based on the lived experiences of students of color and address racial equity impact assessments; funding inequities; ongoing training and support for all school staff to build a positive school climate; implicit bias; curricula and extra-curricular opportunities that respect and elevate the experiences of students of color; and other equity issues, with the voices of youth of color at the center.

3. Ensure that the McKinney-Vento homeless liaison[ii] has adequate time and capacity to build relationships with students experiencing homelessness, and/or designate and train school building-level liaisons, such as school counselors or social workers, to build those relationships. Emphasize that such relationships are a valuable part of teaching and learning.

4. Ensure that the McKinney-Vento homeless liaison has adequate time and capacity to participate in school climate activities and to collaborate with community agencies that provide food, health and mental health care, transportation, and housing, to meet students’ needs outside of school. These added services help show students they are valued by their school.

Resources:

  1. Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and National Women’s Law Center, Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation
  2. NAACP, Advancing Equity in Education Webinar
  3. National School Climate Center
  4. SchoolHouse Connection, Positive School Discipline Practices for Students Experiencing Homelessness
  5. Teaching Tolerance, Examining Your School’s Climate

[i] AK, AR, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, ME, MT, NH, NC, PA, VA, WI.
[ii] Every local educational agency (school district and charter school) must have a designated McKinney-Vento homeless liaison to ensure students experiencing homelessness can enroll, attend, and succeed in school. 

 

Part III: Sexual Orientation Equity: Disproportionality and Action Steps for Schools

[Download the PDF]

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was first developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to assess the health risk behaviors of youth and adults in the United States. For the first time since the survey has been widely administered, the 2017 YRBS optional question list included two questions pertaining to homelessness. SchoolHouse Connection analyzed demographic and risk factor data from the YRBS in 17 states[i], comparing high school students experiencing homelessness and those not experiencing homelessness. This series shares the striking and heartbreaking results of that analysis, with tangible action steps schools can take to promote safety and health for students experiencing homelessness.

SchoolHouse Connection’s analysis of YRBS data found that high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ) are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness, with 29.8% of students experiencing homelessness identifying as LGBQ, compared to 13.8% of all students. YRBS data are not sufficient to determine the prevalence of homelessness among transgender high school students, although other research indicates disproportionality.

These data mean that LGBQ high school students are 2.94 times more likely to experience homelessness than heterosexual high school students.

YRBS homelessness data include high school students who experience homelessness as part of families, as well as those who are homeless by themselves. While the data do not establish the reasons for a student’s homelessness, they clearly demonstrate a disproportionate likelihood that LGBQ high school students will experience homelessness. Studies of unaccompanied homeless youth that also include young adults have found similar disproportionalities for LGBTQ youth.

Additional research has found that LGBTQ youth also are more likely to be bullied in school and to be victims of both physical and sexual violence than heterosexual youth. In schools, equity and safety for all LGBTQ students, including those who experience homelessness, requires a deliberate, district-wide commitment over time.

Action Steps for Schools

1. Ensure that strong anti-bullying policies and practices are in place and respected.

2. Locate LGBTQ organizations in your community and invite them to lead trainings at school, consult on district policies and practices, and provide guidance on curricula and extra-curricular opportunities that respect and elevate the experiences of LGBTQ students.

LYRIC, an LGBTQ youth organization in San Francisco, runs a successful school transformation program, demonstrating how schools and LGBTQ organizations can partner to improve school climate and reduce bullying. At Horace Mann Middle School and Balboa High School, students participated in a year-long regular school day Social Justice Course exploring justice, culture, identity, and diversity through an LGBTQ lens. Each participating youth was assessed for LGBTQ youth risk factors and provided access to individualized case management and weekly lunchtime support/discussion groups. Course-enrolled students formed a peer-based leadership team—engaging peers around LGBTQ inclusion, leading activities and events for all students throughout the school year, and promoting LGBTQ visibility and inclusion throughout the school community. Students and staff reported reduced harassment and bullying, improved safety, and enhanced school connectivity.

3. Prioritize creating a positive school climate for the district. Provide ongoing training, coaching, and support for all school staff to build a positive school climate, including topics such as gender identity, cultural competency, and empathy. Ensure that these efforts accommodate the harsh reality of students experiencing homelessness.

4. Engage LGBTQ youth in school climate and equity efforts. Ask them for help spreading the word about McKinney-Vento services.

5. Ensure that the McKinney-Vento homeless liaison has adequate time and capacity to participate in school climate training and to collaborate with community agencies that provide food, health and mental health care, transportation, and housing, to meet students’ needs outside of school. These added services help show students they are valued by their school.


[i] AK, AR, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, ME, MT, NH, NC, PA, VA, WI.

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