Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Answering the Call: Facilitating Responsive Services for Students Experiencing Homelessness

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Answering the Call: Facilitating Responsive Services for Students Experiencing Homelessness

Article excerpt

After a review of the literature elucidating the status quo for students experiencing homelessness, this article shares the results of a mixed methods study. With a phenomenological qualitative emphasis, the mixed methods study explored the perceptions of parents and children experiencing homelessness regarding their academic needs and the services they considered to be helpful. The researchers also examined archival data associated with an after school tutoring program offered at an agency that works with families experiencing homelessness. A paired samples t test indicated a significant difference the number of failed courses for participants in the tutoring program over a one-year period. Difference in grade point average was not significant over the same period of time. The article shares implications and recommendations for practice.


In 2007, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimated that more than 1.35 million children will experience homelessness annually, and, regrettably, this number continues to increase (Griffin & Farris, 2010). Economic factors are a significant contributor to this dire reality. It is estimated that workers making a full-time minimum wage salary spend about 60% of their income on rent, although the recommended rate for affordability is 30%. In 30 states, more than two full-time, minimum wage jobs are needed in order to afford a two bedroom fair market rent (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2009).

Children experiencing homelessness are more likely to miss school than other students from families with low incomes (Buckner, 2008; Rafferty, Shinn, & Weitzman, 2004; Rubin & Erikson, 1996). Researchers also have found that these children have a notably higher incidence of developmental delays (Gewirtz, Hart-Shegos, & Medhanie, 2008; ManSoo, North, LaVesser, Osborne, & Spitznagel, 2008). Children experiencing homelessness perform significantly below normative levels academically (Gewirtz et al., 2008). Half of this population is retained for one grade, with 22% of these young people repeating multiple grades (compared with 25% of never homeless children repeating one grade and 8% repeating more than one grade) (Rafferty et al., 2004). Children and adolescents experiencing homelessness have a disproportionally high prevalence of mental health, physical health, and behavioral issues (Buckner, Bassuk, Weinreb, & Brooks, 1999; ManSoo et al., 2008). In addition, fewer children experiencing homelessness reported having a close friend and social support when compared to their housed peers (Baggerly & Borkowski, 2004; Masten, Miliotis, Graham-Bermann, Ramierz, & Neemann, 1993).

Transportation issues, lack of school records, and requirements for documentation (e.g., immunization, physical exams, proof of residency, and birth certificates) can be barriers for families experiencing homelessness when they try to enroll their children in schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). The McKinney-Vento Act of 1987 was created to assist in ensuring that students are able to enroll and succeed in school. The act delineated the tights of these students and families (Hernandez, Jozefowicz-Simbeni, & Israel, 2006). For example, students experiencing homelessness have the right to stay in their school of origin during times of residential instability. Also, schools must provide immediate school enrollment by waiving documentation and immunization requirements and providing transportation to the school of origin for homeless students (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). School districts may experience difficulties in fulfilling these mandates. Factors such as staff turnover, lack of awareness of needs, difficulty in identifying homeless children, and limited funding are cited as reasons for their struggles or lack of compliance with the legal mandates (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).

Studies examining the outcomes of programs serving these students and literature representing the voices of families experiencing homelessness are conspicuously scarce in the school counseling field. …

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