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 IV: Vulnerability of Different Homeless Situations
Part V: Missing School Due to Safety Concerns
Part VI: Suicide
Part VII: Bullying
Part VIII: Dating Violence
Part IX: Rape and Sexual Assault

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

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

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

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.

PartIV

Part IV: Vulnerability of Different Homeless Situations

[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[1], 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 analyzed YRBS data to determine the vulnerability of youth in different homeless living situations to a variety of health risk behaviors. When asked where they usually slept during the past 30 days, high school students reported homelessness as follows:

[i] While “no usual place to sleep” does not fall under a specific subcategory of homelessness defined under the McKinney-Vento Act (42 U.S.C. §11434a), the answer indicates that students may have been moving so frequently that they could not identify a usual sleeping arrangement in any single category, even looking back over only the previous thirty days. Part of the McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of homelessness is that the living situation is not “regular”; it is subject to change. These students also indicated health risk factors comparable to students in homeless situations. Therefore, while we cannot determine that these students lived in any particular subcategory of homelessness, we believe the answer “no usual place to sleep” is very likely to indicate a level of mobility that would make the students’ living situation not regular, and therefore homeless.”

Analyzing risk behaviors of students in each of these living situations revealed that youths’ vulnerability to violence, suicide, substance abuse, hunger, bullying, and lack of sleep was comparable across different living situations. For every risk behavior studied, the incidence among students in any homeless living situation was significantly higher than that of their housed peers.

For example, the following percentages of students in each living situation reported having been raped:

Similarly, struggles with mental health and substance abuse were significantly higher among students reporting homelessness, and comparable across homeless living situations:

YRBS homelessness data show that high school students experiencing homelessness are very vulnerable to a variety of harms to their safety, health, and well-being. This vulnerability crosses all homeless living situations. Students experiencing homelessness are at dire risk of rape, assault, suicide, substance abuse, hunger, bullying and other risks, whether sleeping in a motel, a car, a shelter, temporarily with other people, or moving so frequently that they cannot identify a usual sleeping arrangement over a thirty-day period.

The YRBS data on the vulnerability of youth across different homeless situations is consistent with previous research showing that homeless students who stay with others temporarily (“doubled up”), or in motels, have similarly poor academic outcomes as those who stay in shelters or are unsheltered. Other research shows the fluidity of homelessness for youth and young families: most do not stay in one place while experiencing homelessness, but rather move frequently between different situations.

“My family lived in motels, in cars, on couches and in basements while I was in school. Living in these conditions took a huge toll on my mental and physical health. We lived with adults I didn’t feel safe around. We didn’t have access to a kitchen or a quiet place to sleep. Despite having a roof over our heads, we were at serious risk for harm.” 

Kara Freise

SchoolHouse Connection Young Leader

Action Steps for Schools

1. Conduct comprehensive activities to identify students experiencing homelessness in all living situations. Ensure that homeless liaisons, which the McKinney-Vento Act requires every school district and charter school to designate, have adequate capacity to lead these comprehensive identification activities.[2]

2. Support the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA), which would make children and youth in all homeless living situations eligible for homeless assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD’s definition of homelessness excludes most students living in motels and those sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason. HCYA would allow local communities to assess the vulnerability of all homeless children and youth and provide assistance tailored to the most vulnerable populations.

3. Raise awareness in your school district and community about the different kinds of homeless living situations, and the vulnerabilities associated with them. Campaigns like #CouchesDontCount are an example of how to shine a light on hidden homelessness.

4. Adopt a trauma-informed approach to education. Provide training for educators and administrators in recognizing behavioral, social, and cognitive characteristics which may indicate reactions to trauma. Foster quality relationships between students and educators and make all students aware of school-based support personnel (school psychologists, school nurses, administrators, social workers). Equip students to identify potentially harmful situations and take direct action using school-based intervention programs such as Green Dot.

5. Use school-based mental health screenings, prevention, and treatment. A multi-tiered approach provides all students with school-based prevention and mental health wellness initiatives. Provide selective interventions to students exhibiting risky behaviors or displaying characteristics of being at-risk for substance abuse/mental health disorders. Students with chronic mental health issues and serious problem behaviors should receive individualized intervention from school psychologists, IEP team members, social workers, and other staff. Screening procedures must be context-sensitive, as some students experiencing trauma may not be identified if they are functioning well in school. When possible, collaborate with community-based mental health providers to provide a continuum of services in case students’ needs go beyond the capacity of the school.

Resources:

  1. The Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 2001)
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents
  3. Resource Sharing Project, Working with Teen Survivors of Sexual Violence
  4. Safe Supportive Learning, Providing School-based Mental Health Services
  5. Violence Prevention Works, Preventing Dating Violence

[1] AK, AR, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, ME, MT, NH, NC, PA, VA, WI.
[2]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.”

 

PartV

Part V: Missing School Due To Safety Concerns

[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.

The data show that more than one in four high school students experiencing homelessness missed at least one day of school in a single month due to these safety concerns.

Absence from school has dire, long-term consequences for students, including higher rates of dropping out of high school, experiencing poverty, and becoming involved in the criminal justice system[ii]. All of these factors can lead to continued homelessness in adulthood. SchoolHouse Connection analyzed YRBS data to determine how often high school students experiencing homelessness miss school because they feel unsafe at school or on their way to or from school. The data show that more than one in four high school students experiencing homelessness missed at least one day of school in a single month due to these safety concerns. They were 4.63 times more likely to miss school due to safety concerns compared to stably housed students.

There are many reasons students experiencing homelessness may feel unsafe. They may have to pass through dangerous neighborhoods on their way to and from school, particularly if they are staying in low-cost motels. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University found that Baltimore City public high school students whose commutes to school force them to walk through or wait in areas with higher violent-crime rates are more likely to miss school[iii].

Students experiencing homelessness sometimes have long commutes when their temporary living situation is far from their original school. As a result, they may leave before sunrise in the morning and return after sunset, forcing them to navigate dangerous neighborhoods in the dark. Research from numerous studies have found human trafficking rates among youth and young adults experiencing homelessness ranging from 19% to 40%[iv]. In school, students experiencing homelessness are disproportionately bullied. Due to their trauma, they also may be even more vulnerable than other students to anxieties regarding school shootings and violence.

Schools can help students experiencing homelessness feel safe on their way to school and after they arrive, to help increase attendance.

Action Steps for Schools

1. Adopt robust policies and practices to identify students experiencing homelessness. Educate teachers about warning signs that a student is experiencing homelessness or is at risk of becoming homeless. Students must be identified to receive critical supports, such as McKinney-Vento rights and services. These services include: immediate school enrollment, school stability, and transportation.

2. Help students feel safe at school.

  • Provide students experiencing homelessness with peer and adult mentors to help them adapt to a new school environment, make friends, and have a safe adult with whom to share concerns about safety.
  • Ensure students experiencing homelessness have access to school counselors and social workers whenever needed.
  • Provide McKinney-Vento liaisons, teachers, counselors, and social workers with sufficient time to build relationships with students and help address safety concerns.
  • Adopt and implement clear policies against bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

3. Help keep students safe on their commute to and from school.

  • Provide appropriate and safe transportation to and from the school of origin. If students must change buses, set up those connections so that two or more students wait for the connection together.
  • Provide students with safety equipment like reflective clothing and cell phones with data plans and calling minutes.
  • Help connect students to walking buddies and/or adult volunteers so they do not have to walk through dangerous neighborhoods alone.

4. Recognize socio-economic challenges which impact school attendance. Common reasons for homeless students missing school include: mobility and housing instability, transportation problems, taking care of younger siblings or elderly family members, working to help meet basic needs, and physical and mental health issues. Connect students and families with services to mitigate these challenges.

5. Ensure that school policies and disciplinary procedures do not negatively impact students because of their homelessness. Revise policies which establish severe penalties for tardiness and/or suspension from school as a result of chronic absences.

Resources:

  1. ADL, 11 Ways Schools Can Help Students Feel Safe in Challenging Times
  2. National Association of School Psychologists, Threat Assessment for School Administrators & Crisis Teams.
  3. National Human Trafficking Hotline, Safety tips and red flags for human trafficking.
  4. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators
  5. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, How Teachers Can Help Students Who Are Homeless
  6. YouthTruth, Spotlight On: School Safety

[i] AK, AR, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, ME, MT, NH, NC, PA, VA, WI.
[ii] National Center for Homeless Education (2017). In School Every Day: Addressing Chronic Absenteeism Among Students Experiencing Homelessness.
[iii] J. Burdock-Will, M. Stein, & J. Grigg (2019). Danger on the Way to School: Exposure to Violent Crime, Public Transportation, and Absenteeism.
[iv] National Network for Youth (2018). Responding to Youth Homelessness: A Key Strategy for Preventing Human Trafficking.

PartVI

Part VI: Suicide

[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.

More than one in three high school students experiencing homelessness attempted suicide in the year prior to completing the YRBS.

Homelessness at any age is traumatic. In infancy, homelessness harms babies’ health and development, which continues into early childhood[ii]. For adolescents, homelessness means hunger, instability, and extreme emotional stress. It often means victimization, trafficking, and separation from family and other support networks, whether due to family rejection or the family’s inability to find shelter together[iii]. YRBS data show that tragically, many high school students experiencing homelessness resort to self-harm as a response to the trauma of homelessness.

Students experiencing homelessness were 7.19 times more likely to attempt suicide compared to stably housed youth. High school students experiencing homelessness are 3.21 times more likely to have a suicide plan compared to stably housed youth.

To explore these findings further, SchoolHouse Connection (SHC) asked 49 young people with homeless experiences who participate in the mentorship and leadership programs of SchoolHouse Connection and the National Network for Youth about whether they had considered suicide. 59.18% of our young leaders reported making a suicide plan while in high school, and one in four reported a suicide attempt while in high school.

These devastating findings are not inevitable. Schools can provide students experiencing homelessness with access to mental health support, mentorship, basic needs, and hope.

59.18% of our young leaders reported making a suicide plan while in high school, and one in four reported a suicide attempt while in high school.

Action Steps for Schools

The following action steps were suggested by young people who experienced homelessness and trauma in high school.

1. Talk about mental health openly and often. Youth noted that “destigmatizing depression, anxiety, and mental illness, in general, would be a big step in the right direction. Nurses and counselors could visit classrooms and discuss the commonality of things like this.”

2. Schools need to “have enough staff that students are able to make personal connections, and to help foster informal check-ins.” It takes time for McKinney-Vento homeless liaisons, school counselors, social workers, teachers, nurses, and others to build trust with students. Such investments in students’ emotional health must be valued and prioritized.

3. Collaborate with community mental health providers to locate services on school campuses and ensure that youth experiencing homelessness can access them, discreetly. Youth suggested locating services within schools and at a range of times during, before, and after the school day, to help eliminate transportation barriers.

4. Offer school phones in private locations for students to call suicide hotlines whenever needed. Youth experiencing homelessness often struggle to maintain functioning cell phones and cell phone plans, yet suicide hotlines provide support and a listening ear that literally save lives.

5. Create school-based peer educational training programs to inform young people about depression and suicidality and to support students experiencing these risk behaviors.

6. Respect youth autonomy. A consensus among youth surveyed was to “let students know what resources are available to them. Be clear about the procedure followed when students disclose [suicidal thoughts] so they can make an informed choice about disclosure—don’t force interventions that students don’t want, [and] let them know what they need to do to avoid them. [Not] allowing students to safely disclose suicidal feelings is more dangerous than allowing someone to leave after disclosing.”

7. Review all school policies to ensure they are trauma-informed and specifically consider the trauma and needs of students experiencing homelessness.

Resources:

  1. 3 Bold Steps, Promoting Student Mental Health
  2. eSchool News, 3 No-Cost Ways to Support Mental Health in Schools
  3. Mental Health America, Back to School Toolkit
  4. National Alliance on Mental Health, Navigating a Mental Health Crisis
  5. Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, Understanding Suicide: Outlining Basic Characteristics
  6. Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Preventing Suicide: The Role of High School Teachers
  7. US Department of Health and Human Services, Adolescent Mental Health Basics  

[i] AK, AR, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, ME, MT, NH, NC, PA, VA, WI.
[ii] Richards, R., Merrill, R. M., Baksh, L., & McGarry, J. (2011). “Maternal health behaviors and infant health outcomes among homeless mothers: US Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) 2000–2007”. Preventive Medicine, 52(1), 87-94. Stein, J. A., Lu, M. C., & Gelberg, L. (2000). “Severity of homelessness and adverse birth outcomes”. Health Psychology, 19(6), 524.
[iii] National Network for Youth. “Human Trafficking and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Population.” Administration for Children and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau (2016). “Street Outreach Program Data Collection Study Final Report.”

PartVI

Part VII: Bullying 

[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.

More than one in three students experiencing homelessness reported being a victim of bullying at school.

Bullying has many negative effects for students and schools. Students who are bullied are more likely to experience:

  • Depression and anxiety, loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
  • Decreased academic achievement—GPA and standardized test scores—and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school[ii].

High school students experiencing homelessness are 2.59 times more likely to be bullied on school property or electronically compared to their stably housed peers. More than one in three students experiencing homelessness reported being a victim of bullying at school.

Action Steps for Schools

1. Never stigmatize or segregate students experiencing homelessness[iii]. Keep information about a student’s homelessness private unless there is a particular reason for a school staff member to know[iv]. Always speak to parents and students prior to disclosing their homelessness to other school staff.

2. Know about your obligations under your state’s anti-bullying law. Also learn about federal laws that require schools to address harassment and discrimination. Work to establish rules and policies to let the entire school community know the expectations around bullying and procedures to report and investigate when something happens.

3. Train staff and students on the importance of ally behavior and speaking up when they observe bullying.

Schools are a primary location for bullying and must be leaders in preventing bullying. 

4. Provide students experiencing homelessness with access to showers, hygiene supplies, clothing, athletic equipment, school supplies, and other materials to help them participate fully in school without standing out from their peers.

5. Take a public health approach to bullying prevention. An approved training program is available at stopbullying.gov.

6. Avoid common “misdirections” in bullying prevention. Zero tolerance policies often fail, because as many as one in five students admits to bullying their peers occasionally. Bullying also can be an early indicator of other problem behaviors. Even conflict resolution and peer mediation programs may send the wrong message about bullying to the victim. Instead, adopt restorative justice practices school wide, which seek to build a sense of community and restore relationships by placing emphasis on healing the wounds of victims, bullies, and communities.

Resources:

  1. American Psychological Association, How Parents, Teachers, and Kids Can Take Action to Prevent Bullying
  2. Bullyingnoway.gov.au, Resources for Talking and Teaching about Bullying
  3. Child Mind Institute, What To Do If Your Child is Bullying
  4. ChildTrends, Alternatives to Zero Tolerance Policies
  5. Crisis Prevention Institute, 10 Ways to Help Reduce Bullying in Schools
  6. PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, Questions Answered
  7. National Education Association, How to Intervene in a Bullying Incident
  8. StopBullying.org, What is Bullying
  9. The New York Times, Lesson Plan: Discussing Bullying and Antigay Attitudes

[i] AK, AR, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, ME, MT, NH, NC, PA, VA, WI.
[ii] https://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/effects/index.html
[iii] Federal law requires state and local educational agencies to “adopt policies and practices to ensure that homeless children and youths are not stigmatized or segregated on the basis of their status as homeless.” 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(1)(J)(i).
[iv] Information about a child’s or youth’s homeless living situation is protected as a student education record under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(G).

PartVIII

Part VIII: Dating Violence

[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.

High school students experiencing homelessness were 5.03 times more likely to be victims of sexual dating violence compared to their stably housed peers.

Many studies, including SchoolHouse Connection’s YRBS research, have found that youth experiencing homelessness are disproportionately likely be raped and sexually assaulted. For high school students experiencing homelessness, this heightened risk transfers into intimate partner relationships.

High school students experiencing homelessness were 5.03 times more likely to be victims of sexual dating violence compared to their stably housed peers.

The risk rose even higher for physical dating violence, with high school students experiencing homelessness 5.88 times more likely to be victims of physical dating violence compared to their stably housed peers. One in four high school students experiencing homelessness reported being a victim of physical dating violence.

Youth who are victims of physical or sexual dating violence are more likely to:

  • Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol
  • Exhibit antisocial behaviors, like lying, theft, bullying or hitting
  • Think about suicide[ii]

Schools can help prevent dating violence among all students.

Action Steps for Schools

1. Incorporate education about dating violence and safety into existing curricula. Infuse the school and district culture with messaging about healthy relationships. As one young person who experienced homelessness stated:

“Educate [students about] what physical and sexual dating violence looks like so they can identify whether they are in a violent relationship. Explain prevention methods, how to deescalate a physically and sexually violent person, [and] how to leave such a relationship without promoting any more violence. When I was experiencing sexual violence in a relationship, I did not realize right away that it was abuse even though I knew I was being coerced.”

2. Create targeted resources for female students, male students, and LGBTQ and non-binary youth. Ensure resources and curricula are culturally competent, recognizing that sexual minority groups and some racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected.

3. Develop comprehensive school policies addressing healthy relationships and abuse intervention and response. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence offers sample policies.

4. Implement programs like Expect Respect or the Relationship Abuse Prevention Program in your school.

5. Create safe spaces in schools for students to discuss dating violence. Ensure that McKinney-Vento homeless liaisons, school counselors, teachers, nurses, and other staff have time to build trust and have conversations with students. Such investments in students’ emotional and physical health must be valued and prioritized.

6. Educate teachers and staff about warning signs of dating violence and what to do if they suspect a student is in an unhealthy relationship. In the case that a student discloses concerns about dating violence, advise all staff members to withhold judgement; explain the limits of their confidentiality; empower the student to make their own decisions by providing resources; and never to approach the suspected abuser about the situation, even if they have a relationship with that person.

7. Partner with community-based health organizations to make helpful resources such as healthcare, counseling, or legal aid accessible to all students.

Resources:

  1. Break the Cycle.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Teen Dating Violence.
  3. Futures Without Violence, National Domestic, Sexual, and Dating Violence Resources and Referrals
  4. Futures Without Violence, That’s Not Cool
  5. Love is Respect (866-331-8452; Text loveis to 22522).
  6. National Domestic Violence Hotline, What is Domestic Violence?
  7. Thorne Harbour Health, Power and Control Wheel
  8. VetoViolence, Dating Matters: Understanding Teen Dating Violence Prevention
  9. Youth.gov, Victim & Survivor Resources

[i] AK, AR, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, KY, ME, MT, NH, NC, PA, VA, WI.
[ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Preventing Teen Dating Violence.

PartIX

Part IX: Rape and Sexual Assault

[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.

Nearly one in four high school students experiencing homelessness reported being forced to have sexual intercourse.

The very nature of not having a safe place to sleep places youth experiencing homelessness at serious risk of sexual assault. Shelters don’t exist in many communities, or are full, or don’t accept minors; many youth also are afraid of adult shelters. As a result, most high school students experiencing homelessness are staying temporarily in the homes of other people. All too often, youth are victims of sexual assault and rape at the hands of their “hosts.” In fact, high school students staying in all homeless situations — including motels, shelters, with other people, and in unsheltered locations – are disproportionately likely to be raped and sexually assaulted.

High school students experiencing homelessness were 4.11 times more likely to be raped compared to their stably housed peers. Nearly one in four high school students experiencing homelessness reported being forced to have sexual intercourse.

Similarly, high school students experiencing homelessness were 5.59 times more likely to be forced to do sexual things (defined as kissing, touching, or sexual intercourse) compared to stably housed youth. Over a twelve month period, one in three high school students experiencing homelessness reported being forced to do sexual things.

Schools can help prevent rape and sexual assault of students, as well as supporting survivors.

Action Steps for Schools

1. Create a school- and district-wide culture of respect of physical and sexual boundaries and limits. Infuse classes and extra-curricular activities with messaging about the need for affirmative consent before proceeding with sexual activity.

2. Incorporate education about sexual violence and safety into existing health classes. Be sure the curriculum is supportive of survivors and includes information about who at school is trained to talk to students who have been raped or sexually assaulted.

3. Offer school phones in private locations for students to call rape or sexual assault hotlines whenever needed. Youth experiencing homelessness often struggle to maintain functioning cell phones and cell phone plans.

4. Collaborate with community providers to ensure access to services for survivors of rape and sexual assault, as well as information about sexual health and safety. Consider likely barriers to services for students experiencing homelessness, such as lack of transportation and money for co-pays or sliding scale services.

5. Revise mandatory child protective services reporting requirements to allow youth to request and receive services without involving the child welfare system. One of SchoolHouse Connection’s Young Leaders articulated a common concern: “I would emphasize confidential, non-reporting counseling options. Having experienced this kind of violence, I never sought the therapy that could have helped me cope or provided me with strategies to better my situation for fear of legal reporting requirements.”

Resources:

  1. Editorial Projects in Education, “A Practical Framework for Teaching Consent.”
  2. EducationPost, “5 Ways We Teach Rape Culture in Schools
  3. Healthguide, “The Complete Guide to Teaching Kids Consent at Every Age.”
  4. Joyful Heart Foundation, “Sexual Assault and Rape Resources
  5. Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, “Sexual Harassment-Prevention in Schools.”
  6. Planned Parenthood, “Getting Help for Someone Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted
  7. Rape Crisis Help, How We Can Help
  8. Rape Crisis England & Wales, “Not Sure Where to Start?
  9. Teaching Tolerance, “Disrupting Rape Culture through Education.”
  10. Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, “Rape Culture Pyramid Discussion Guide.”

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

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This