Homeless Children & Their Struggle To Attend School

New research from the Institute for Children, Poverty, & Homelessness finds a third of the 43,000 homeless children in grades K-5 attending NYC schools were chronically absent in the 2013-2014 school year.

Even among their peers who receive free or reduced-price lunch (a proxy for a low-income household), homeless students were twice as likely to be chronically absent.

The CUNY ISLG Equality Indicators found similar disparities; daily absenteeism rate among children residing in the Department of Homeless Services shelters (14.6%) was more than 1.5 times higher than that of children in the general population (8.7%). This was an improvement over the previous year, when the general absenteeism rate was the same (8.7%), but the rate among homeless children was higher (16.4%).

We know homeless children are more likely to have cognitive and mental health problems than children who have stable housing, and to miss school or drop out. Homeless children in the U.S. miss substantially more days of school than their peers who have housing, in large part because of family transience.

Their chances of succeeding in school are far lower than that of their peers who have stable housing. According to ICPH, chronically absent homeless students passed one or both 3rd-8th grade State assessment tests only one-third as often as students who missed fewer than 5 days of school.

One in 10 homeless elementary school students (10.5%) who were chronically absent were held back the following year, compared to much lower rates for those who were not chronically absent.

It takes a village to fix this problem. ICPH notes that community involvement is crucial. Some ways of increasing attendance among homeless children can include:

  • Adding activities before and after school to increase students’ desire to attend
  • Following up with parents immediately when a student is not at school to identify the reason for the absence
  • Helping families address health issues and other barriers that lead to absences