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Reforming the Engagement of Schools with Unaccompanied Homeless Children
Homelessness, with poverty and housing inaccessibility as its underlying structural drivers, has an enduring presence in all Western nations. While governments traditionally focus on supporting adults, families, and youth out of homelessness, increasingly attention is being turned to the significant number of children under 18 years who experience homelessness alone without an accompanying parent or guardian. Unaccompanied children commonly leave home early against the backdrop of family conflict and breakdown, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, and neglect. They may sleep rough without shelter, couch-surf between extended family members, friends, and acquaintances, and access those youth refuges that will accommodate them. Without access to the consistent care of a parent or guardian, unaccompanied homeless children experience unique personal, systemic, and structural vulnerabilities that, without adequate developmentally appropriate intervention, will result in a range of physical, psychological, social, and educational harms.
Schools, as the sole universal statutory service for children, can be central in the immediate safeguarding of children and their referral to services for additional supports. Schools can also offer a pathway into lifelong learning, employment, and community connectedness that is crucial to reducing poverty and enabling wellbeing and social inclusion. As such, schools have a key role to play in responding to unaccompanied homeless children by ensuring equitable access to education and engaging with the international shift toward child and youth homelessness prevention and early intervention.
Research consistently suggests school-based programs are key to identifying children at risk, preventing homelessness, and improving learning outcomes for those who do experience homelessness. At a minimum, schools can intervene in educational harms, such as low attainment and early school leaving, that are associated with high mobility, a lack of support, cumulative trauma, and stigma. Addressing administrative and practical barriers to homeless children’s school access and attendance, implementing trauma-informed practice, and increasing awareness of homelessness are essential starting points. Further, the trend of articulating child wellbeing as a shared, cross-sector goal has increasingly created opportunities for schools, in collaboration with social services, to become innovative homelessness prevention and early intervention hubs that strengthen children’s outcomes.
Publication titleOxford Research Encyclopedias: Education
Department/SchoolSchool of Social Sciences
PublisherOxford University Press
Place of publicationOxford, UK
Rights statementCopyright 2021 Oxford University Press