A Child’s World in the Face of Homelessness: Part 2

Lee Alcott Executive Director, Barren River Area Safe Space, Inc.

September 23, 2013

July’s column shared some of the issues faced by homeless children as the hidden victims of domestic violence. Shelter Advocates are often asked, “Do the children in the shelter go to school? How do they access school?” “Suppose they come from a different county?” The answer to the first question is, “Yes, children that enter the shelter are enrolled in one of the local schools within three says of entrance into the shelter. Enrollment usually occurs during the first day of entrance.”

Homeless children, including migrant children, have federal protections that afford them a free and appropriate education under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act. This includes preschool-aged and school-aged children and youth. Homeless children must be given access to the same public education, including preschool education, provided to other children.

If a family becomes homeless and moves to a shelter in a different school district, resides in a motel, vehicle or campground, lives on the street, in an abandoned building, trailer or other inadequate accommodations, lives doubled up with friends or relatives because they cannot find or afford housing, federal law requires that children in those families must be permitted to continue in the school they attended become the incident of homelessness if that is in the best interest of the child. HUD (Housing and Urban Urban Development) also includes “people who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, have no other residence and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing” in the latest homeless definition changes.

HUD recognizes the unique difficulties faced by victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence and has issued new guidance for homeless service providers in order to increase access to safe and affordable housing.

This guidance includes requirements for the education of homeless children and requires agencies that receive federal housing funding to have policies and procedures in place to ensure the educational rights of homeless children are protected. Each homeless service agency must also validate that they have a designated staff person to ensure that homeless children receive educational needs.

Domestic violence advocates often become advocates of the educational rights of homeless children when enrolling them in school. School cannot delay acceptance of a homeless child due to lack of paperwork, including birth certificates, immunization forms and previous school records. A school must accept a homeless child or youth at the time the student enrolls in the school. Immediate school enrollment is a requirement of each school district. Discrimination against homeless children is prohibited and each school district is required to designate a local liaison for homeless children and youth in order to facilitate equal access to education. Homeless children are also entitled to free food services at school. A Verification of Homeless For Food Service form is available to ensure that each homeless student is provided breakfast and lunch at no cost to the family.

Schools have always provided a safety net for children and families and have an increased responsibility to promote educational opportunities for not only for homeless children but for homeless children who live in a domestic violence shelter. Unplanned moves and housing instability may have a devastating effect on children. Children exposed to domestic violence and who become homeless may face barriers to education and or emotional development. A safe, smooth transition to a new school will foster positive change and stability.

For more information on the educational rights of homeless children Kentucky visit the website of the Kentucky Department of Education: or contact Mary Marshall: or 502-564-3791. You may also contact the Barren River Area Safe Space, Inc. for additional information on homelessness and domestic violence.

The agency published A Primer on Homeless Rights that contains information on the educational rights of homeless children and youth. To request a copy go to our website at: