Back to School: McKinney-Vento Liaisons Help Children Who Are Homeless
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Children who are homeless face numerous challenges both outside and inside the classroom. Liaisons funded under the McKinney-Vento Act help children who are homeless access the services they need to succeed. As children across the nation prepare to go back to school, the HRC takes a closer look at two innovative McKinney-Vento liaison programs.
As summer draws to a close, children and families across the nation are preparing to go back to school. But what about children and families who are homeless? Who helps them to navigate the public school system?
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, reauthorized in January 2002, requires each school district to select a staff member to serve as a liaison between homeless students and the school system. McKinney-Vento liaisons are charged with identifying homeless students, enrolling them in school, connecting students to services to help them succeed, and working with parents to understand the child’s educational rights.
A stable place to attend school can help mitigate the impact of homelessness upon a child. Liaisons play a critical role in helping students to access the services they need to be successful in school.
How do different school districts help children who are homeless? What are some models for a successful McKinney-Vento liaison program? In Richmond, California and Albuquerque, New Mexico, school districts are creating innovative and effective programs and partnerships to help children and families.
Richmond, California suffers from high crime rates and a cash-strapped school district. Many students come from low-income families, and face numerous challenges outside the classroom. The city’s school district, the West Contra Costa Unified School District has created a Families in Transition (FIT) program, run by the district’s McKinney-Vento educational liaison.
The FIT program works intensively and collaboratively with the local community. “They are our eyes and ears,” explains Jeri Cohen, Project Coordinator. “Sitting in the office won’t teach me anything. The community needs to know me and I need to know them.”
The FIT program provides an outreach worker who works out of a community-based organization in the center of the city. This makes it easy for him to meet with families. Whenever possible, he connects with families in person rather than over the phone or mail – even just to deliver bus tickets or new information.
Direct personal contact helps him to establish and maintain strong relationships in the community, where he also lives. Outreach efforts are targeted directly to families, and also to those who may encounter families experiencing homelessness. Once students are identified, the FIT program monitors children’s attendance and grades. If a child begins to struggle, they talk with parents right away.
Community collaborations also give FIT staff a wide range of referral options for families who are homeless and families exiting homelessness. This includes referrals to services provided by community-based organizations, the Title I Office, child and family services, county services, the departments of public health and mental health, as well as the Mayor’s office.
In New Mexico, the Albuquerque Public School district is the state’s largest school district, and one of the largest in the entire nation. To help children who are homeless, the district uses Title I funding from the U.S. Department of Education. This money is earmarked for improving the academic achievement of disadvantaged students.
Over the past fifteen years, the Albuquerque Public School’s Title I Homeless Project has created partnerships with community agencies that provide case management, crisis intervention, and health services, including dental care. “When we began this work, we went to the community and started talking about the needs of our students,” says Helen Fox, Title I Homeless Project Liaison. “The community has been tremendously supportive.”
In response to high dropout rates between the ninth and tenth grades, the Title I Homeless Project created a support group for ninth-graders. In 2007, nearly all of the high school students who were homeless graduated from Albuquerque public high schools.
While most of the funding for their work comes through Title I and a McKinney-Vento sub grant, the team has also received numerous grants to supplement their programs. This funding helps them to offer summer programs and a career program for middle school students. Another innovative program is a twice-weekly tutoring program that includes transportation back to where the student is staying and a discounted dinner provided by a local restaurant.
West Contra Costa Unified School District and Albuquerque Public Schools are just two examples of how McKinney liaisons are working with communities to improve the educational experiences of students who are homeless. Community partnerships and outreach are key ways to engage multiple partners to work together to help students who are homeless succeed.
Click here to learn more about the Families In Transition program of the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Click here to learn more about the Albuquerque Public Schools District’s Title I Homeless Project.
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