Homeless and Foster Youth Guidelines for School Staff
Every school district has a designated Homeless Youth Liaison and Foster Youth Liaison. In your district this may not be the same person. The role of the liaison is to assist with immediate enrollment, determine appropriate placement, arrange transportation, and guarantee smooth transfer of records. Know the name and phone numbers of your liaison(s) and notify him/her when foster or homeless youth first enroll. Refer all questions or concerns about the enrollment or treatment of homeless and foster youth to the liaison.
Unlike other children, homeless and foster youth must be immediately enrolled in school. Immediate enrollment is generally defined as the same or the following day. Even if the child is unable to produce records such as proof of immunizations, birth certificate, proof of residency or possess the clothing normally required for school enrollment, he or she must be enrolled. Arrangements can be made to obtain records as soon as possible, but lack of documentation should not prevent immediate enrollment. An unaccompanied youth — that is a youth not in the physical custody of a parent or legal guardian — also has the right to immediate enrollment.
Homeless and foster youth may have attended many schools in a short period of time so school records may be scattered. Get a thorough educational history from the parent so that the appropriate records can be obtained. Try to determine if the youth was receiving special education services. If so, it is important to notify the school or district special education coordinator.
School records for foster youth must be requested from previous schools within two business days of enrollment. The previous school must transfer the records within two days and may not refuse because of unpaid fines or other restrictions. Federal law allows school records to be transferred to the new school without a parent’s signature. A student may not be dis-enrolled from a school or penalized because school records have not been received. If this occurs contact your district liaison.
Because of the necessity of immediate enrollment it can be difficult to place children in the appropriate classroom setting. It may be necessary to contact the previous school by phone to determine the grade of the child, whether they were receiving special ed services or a 504 Plan, to learn of any behavioral concerns or whether the student was suspended or expelled. Former teachers, counselors or administrators can be contacted to determine this information.
Homeless youth often lack a fixed residence. Therefore they may not have a permanent address or telephone. Be sensitive when requesting this information and try to get appropriate emergency contact information. Ask parents to update the information as it changes.
With foster youth it is important to know who has legal custody of the child. Encourage the social worker and/or probation officer to keep the school informed of any changes in custody.
Access to Records
For foster youth, the person holding education rights may not be the parent(s) or even the foster parent. If there is a question about educational rights, ask your district foster youth liaison. Schools must provide the person holding educational rights, the social worker, and/or probation officer access to all of a child’s records.
When a homeless or foster youth enrolls in another district, you may not withhold the transfer of records to the new district because of missing textbooks or unpaid fines.
Student Grades and Credits
If a foster youth’s residential placement is changed, the child’s grades and credits must be calculated as of the date the child left school. No lowering of grades is allowed to occur as a result of a change of placement. Partial credits must be calculated. You can click here for a credits calculator. If the child is absent from school due to a verified court appearance or related court ordered activity, no lowering of his or her grades may occur as the result of the absence. Schools must accept for credit full or partial coursework satisfactorily completed by the pupil while attending public, juvenile court school, or nonpublic, non-sectarian school even if the school is not accredited.
Foster youth who transfer high schools after their second year may graduate by completing minimum state graduation requirements if, at the time of transfer, they cannot reasonably complete additional local school district requirements within four years of high school. Cal. Educ. Code § 51225.1. For additional information about minimum graduation requirements for foster youth, please see this information about AB 167.
What Should I Do When the Social Worker Calls?
Once every six months the social worker is required to file a report with the court regarding each of the children on his or her caseload. This report should include information about the child’s school attendance and performance. The social worker is legally entitled to access all information about the child.
- Confirm that the person who has identified him/herself as the social worker is in fact the student’s social worker. All social workers have county identification badges. You may also confirm the identity with the foster parent.
- Answer any questions the social worker may pose about the student.
- Relate positive experiences you have had with the child.
- Tell the social worker about concerns you may have about the child.
- Ask to be notified of court dates and medical appointments that may take the child out of school or cause emotional upheaval.
- Invite the social worker to attend upcoming school events.
Protocol for Enrolling Unaccompanied Youth in School
- Enroll unaccompanied youth immediately, as required by the McKinney-Vento Act.
- Contact your school district McKinney-Vento liaison to inquire about available services and support and to ensure the youth is appropriately entered into the district data system.
- Welcome the youth to the school:
- Inform the youth of classes, programs and activities available.
- Provide a school tour.
- Offer a peer and adult mentor.
- Give the youth the opportunity to connect with the school counselor or school resource officer for support.
- Inform the youth of his/her eligibility for free school meals and other McKinney-Vento services.
- There is no automatic duty to report the youth to parents, law enforcement or CPS.
- After enrollment, check with the state missing children clearinghouse or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (missingkids.com or 1-800-THE-LOST).
- If the youth has been reported missing, a school counselor or other appropriate adult should speak with the student to get more information about the youth’s safety, home situation and possible repercussions of returning the youth home. The school should contact the school resource officer, if available. Schools without a resource officer should contact local law enforcement.
- If you receive a request for records that have been flagged as a missing child, or you receive flagged records from another school, contact law enforcement immediately.
- If you are contacted by the student’s parent or legal guardian:
- Confirm the parent’s or legal guardian’s identity.
- Share information with parents and legal guardians, unless you have a court order to the contrary or the youth has alleged abuse (in which case contact Child Protective Services and refer the parent or guardian to that agency).
- In cases of family conflict or dysfunction, refer the student and parent to the school counselor, school social worker, local youth-serving agencies or community family mediation resources.
- If you have reason to suspect child abuse that triggers your duty as a mandated reporter, contact Child Protective Services.
- All mandated reporters working with unaccompanied youth should tell them up front that they are mandatory reporters, so youth can choose what information to share. Many youth fear the involvement of child welfare services due to past negative experiences with the system, loyalty to parents, or concern for siblings still at home.