The Educational Rights of Homeless Youth: A Primer

August 7, 2018

The U.S. homeless population has increased in recent years - and the numbers are staggering. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 57,971 family households were identified as homeless in January 2017, and inn 2016, approximately 500,000 people in families stayed in homeless shelters or transitional housing. Of that number, 292,166 were children, 144,991 of them under the age of six.

Needless to say, homeless families have many legal needs. Homeless children, in particular, are often the most severely impacted by a lack of housing. It can affect their health, their overall development (physical, mental, and emotional), and unsurprisingly, their education. Many homeless youth and their families are unaware of their rights, and typically do not receive proper services without the help of an advocate in their corner. This begs the question: what role can lawyers play in advocating for the educational rights of homeless youth?

First, it’s important to identify what those rights even are. Lawline’s course Advocating for the Educational Rights of Homeless Children and Youth provides a helpful breakdown of the various statutes and regulations that govern the provision of services to homeless youth.

Any lawyer looking to advocate for homeless youth must become familiar with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Passed originally in 1987, the Act was reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, and was again amended and reauthorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. The Act governs the provision of services to homeless children and youth. It defines the rights of unaccompanied homeless youth, includes provisions on how to identify homeless students, contains procedural safeguards for them, and more. Here are the main takeaways of the statute. The Act:

  • Guarantees equal access to the same free, appropriate education as any other student;
  • Requires state and local educational agencies to review any regulations or policies that might act as a barrier to the identification, enrollment, attendance, or success of any homeless child;
  • Prohibits segregation of homeless students; and
  • Provides opportunities to access educational services in order to meet state academic standards.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) has also identified the educational rights of homeless youth, which include the right to:

  • Remain in their school of origin, even if they move;
  • Enroll in any public school that other non-homeless students living in the same area are eligible to attend;
  • Enroll in school even if the child has missed enrollment deadlines during his or her period of homelessness;
  • Enroll in school without typically required records; and
  • Receive transportation to and from school-related activities.

For more information on the rights of homeless youth, watch the full program or refer to the NLCHP’s many helpful resources. Want to head straight to the source? You can read the entire McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act here.


Author Bio

Written by Angelica Cesario

Angelica Cesario is Lawline's Lead Program Attorney. She graduated cum laude from Amherst College in 2008 and holds a B.A. in Women's and Gender Studies and a Certificate in Latino and Latin American Studies. She received her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2013 and is admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey. Before joining Lawline, Angelica worked as a plaintiff-side labor & employment litigation attorney. Outside of work, Angelica serves on the Board of Directors of the TEAK Fellowship, a non-profit academic and cultural enrichment program that provides educational access to top NYC students. Angelica is the proud mom of an energetic toddler. During her free time, she enjoys reading, trying new foods, and catching up on her favorite TV shows.


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