Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Educating Homeless and Highly Mobile Students: Implications of Research on Risk and Resilience

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Educating Homeless and Highly Mobile Students: Implications of Research on Risk and Resilience

Article excerpt

Schools in many districts across the United States have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of students experiencing homelessness over the past 3 decades. Rates of homelessness among families with children and youth increased sharply in the 1980s and 1990s and then surged again with the onset of the Great Recession during the first decade of the 21st century. The federal response to the crisis of homelessness in children included enactment of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (reauthorized under the No Child Left Behind Act; see Samuels, Shinn, & Buckner, 2010, for this history). McKinney-Vento legislation, intended to address the educational challenges of homeless students, guaranteed homeless students the right to enroll in school immediately; to attend their school of origin if that is preferred and feasible; to receive transportation for school and educational services comparable to other students; and to not be stigmatized or segregated on the basis of their homeless status. The law established funding and procedures for the appointment of a local homeless education liaison for every public school district, as well as a state coordinator. The law also mandated that the numbers of children and youth enrolled in school would be collected by state and local agencies and compiled by the National Center for Homeless Education, which operates the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) technical assistance and information center for its Education of Homeless Children and Youth Program.

Schools around the country, particularly in urban districts, continue to face many challenges in meeting the needs of students who experience homelessness. In 2010-2011, over 1 million students were identified as homeless under the ED criteria, a 13% increase over the previous year, and in 2012-2013, that number reached 1,240,925 (National Center for Homeless Education, 2014). ED defines homeless individuals as those "who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence," including children and youth living in shelters, motels, or vehicles or at campgrounds; on the street; or in abandoned buildings or other inadequate situations or who are doubled up because of loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reasons; as well as those awaiting foster placement (see U.S. Code, Title 42, Chapter 119, Subchapter I, [section] 11302). The ED definition is similar to, but broader than, the definition used by Housing and Urban Development (HUD); unlike HUD, ED includes individuals who are doubled up.

The educational success of homeless children has been a central focus of the first author's research program for more than 20 years in collaboration with regional school districts and shelter providers (Masten et al., 2014). In this commentary, we provide an overview of this research on educational risks and resilience of homeless and highly mobile (HHM) students in the context of additional research on school adjustment in homeless children. In the first section we describe the high cumulative risk faced by homeless children and the persistent achievement disparities our research has revealed. In the second section we highlight findings on the promotive and protective factors associated with school readiness and success in school. In the final section we discuss the translational applications of our findings, with a particular focus on implications for school psychology practice and policy, as well as directions for future research.

HIGH ON A CONTINUUM OF RISK

Early research on children experiencing homelessness focused on the high prevalence of health, educational, and behavioral problems seen in this population (Masten, 1992; Rafferty & Shinn, 1991). Children who were homeless (with or without their families) shared many of the risk factors often observed in circumstances of extreme poverty, along with the additional challenges of residential instability, including school mobility. Associated risks included sociodemographic risk factors (e. …

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