State Policy

State Laws to Support Youth Experiencing Homelessness

State policy change is an important strategy to address youth homelessness, since many of the laws that most directly impact youth experiencing homelessness – the rights of minors, health care, housing, employment, education, and child welfare – fall within the purview of state legislatures. This publication provides information on five categories of state laws that support youth experiencing homelessness.

1. Laws allowing unaccompanied homeless minors to consent for housing and shelter services

Details of state statutes are available here

When homeless unaccompanied youth cannot access safe shelter and housing services, they are extremely vulnerable to victimization. Without these services:

Unfortunately, surveys of homeless youth indicate that they are unable or unwilling to seek services due to the need for parental consent and/or the involvement of the child welfare system. Eliminating this barrier would allow homeless service providers the ability to intervene before homeless youth become victims of dangerous predators.

Several states have enacted legislation to allow unaccompanied homeless youth under 18 to obtain shelter and housing without parental consent. Federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act regulations also allow youth to enter federally-funded programs without parental notification or consent if the provider determines contacting a parent or guardian is not in the youth’s best interest, the provider is unable to locate a parent or guardian, or the youth refuses to disclose a parent’s or guardian’s contact information.[iii]

Positive Approaches

2. Laws empowering unaccompanied minors to consent for routine medical care

Details of state statutes are available here

Generally, only persons age 18 and over can consent to their own routine medical and dental care. However, many minors experiencing homelessness are not in the physical custody of a parent or legal guardian. As a result, they are unable to access preventive health care, which is critical to basic safety and welfare. They also cannot obtain treatment for routine medical and dental problems. This creates a serious health hazard for unaccompanied homeless youth. Routine infections and illnesses go untreated. Without this basic health treatment, relatively minor conditions worsen until they become emergencies. At that point, physicians can treat the condition. However, the youth has missed school and work and placed his or her basic health and safety at grave risk, in addition to creating an overall public health hazard.

Medical professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have endorsed the idea of minors making their own medical decisions in certain circumstances and legislation to support that right.[iv] In addition, 29 states have addressed this issue already, using a variety of approaches to ensure that youth on their own can obtain basic medical care.[v]

Positive Approaches

3. Laws that mitigate the effects of mobility to help students experiencing homelessness graduate from high school

Details of state statutes are available here

High school graduation is a critical strategy to prevent youth homelessness. Youth without a high school diploma or GED are 346% more likely to experience homelessness as young adults than their peers with diplomas—the highest risk factor for young adult homelessness[vi]. Unfortunately, the challenges of homelessness and mobility lead to disproportionately low rates of high school graduation among homeless students. Data show that students who experience homelessness even one time while in high school have higher dropout rates than other economically disadvantaged students. In fact, a young person who experiences homelessness is 87% more likely to stop going to school—higher than any other risk factor, including placement in foster care.[vii]

The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) placed great emphasis on high school graduation for students experiencing homelessness, including requiring states to disaggregate graduation data by homelessness. An increasing number of states are passing legislation to complement these federal requirements and increase high school graduation rates for students experiencing homelessness.

Positive Approaches

4. Laws supporting students experiencing homelessness in higher education

Details of state statutes are available here

Many homeless students attend higher education, recognizing it as their best opportunity to secure stable employment and end their homelessness. Over 95 percent of jobs created since the 2007 recession have gone to workers with at least some college education.[viii] Postsecondary attainment is increasingly necessary to move out of poverty and homelessness, and live a healthy, productive life. Yet youth experiencing homelessness face barriers in transitioning from secondary to post-secondary education, as well as barriers to financial aid, college retention, and college completion.

State legislatures have been actively supporting college students experiencing homelessness over the past few years. Laws support students in various ways, including: giving them priority enrollment to help them meet required classes faster; requiring postsecondary institutions to designate Homeless Liaisons to provide students with information and support; providing them priority for on-campus housing, including housing that stays open year-round; providing fee and tuition exemptions; and allowing students experiencing homelessness to have in-state tuition.

Positive Approaches

5. Model Policy on School Discipline for Students Experiencing Homelessness

Download the Resource

This model policy for school discipline for students experiencing homelessness will:

This policy is designed to be used as a guide by states wanting to implement discipline policies for youth experiencing homelessness. The components utilized in this model policy can be adapted as each state sees fit. 


[i] Kipke, et al. (1997). “Street youth, their peer group affiliation and differences according to residential status, subsistence patterns, and use of services.” Adolescence, 32(127): 655-669.

[ii] University of Louisville (2016). Youth Experiences Survey.

[iii] 45 CFR §1351.24(e).

[iv] See, e.g., Rhonda Gay Hartman (December 2002). “Coming of Age: Devising Legislation for Adolescent Medical Decision-Making.” Am. Journal of Law & Medicine. Pittsburgh: U. of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

[v] Alabama allows youth age 14 or over to consent to any legally authorized medical, dental, health or mental health services. Alabama Stat. §§22-8-4; 22-8-7 (2011). Kansas and Rhode Island have similar laws. Kan. Stat. Ann. §38-123b (2011). R.I. Gen. Law § 23-4.6-1.
Alaska allows youth living apart from their parents or legal guardian and managing their own financial affairs to consent for medical and dental services. California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming have similar laws. Alaska Stat. §25.20.025; Cal Fam Code §6922 (2011); Colo. Rev. Stat. 13-22-103 (2011); Burns Ind. Code Ann. §16-36-1-3 (2011); 410 ILCS §210/1.5 (2014); 22 Me. Rev. Stat. §1503 (2011); Mass. Gen. Law ch. 112, §12F (2011); Minn. Stat. §144.341 (2011); R.S. Mo. §431.056 (2011); Mont. Code Ann. §41-1-402 (2011); Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 129.030 (2011); N.M. Stat. §24-7A-6.2 (2011); 63 Okl. St. §2602 (2011); Tex. Fam. Code §32.003 (2011); Wyo. Stat. §14-1-101 (2011).
Arizona and Florida have laws allowing homeless youth to consent to hospital, medical and surgical care. Ariz. Rev. Stat. §44-132 (2011); Fla. Stat. §743.067 (2014).
Idaho and Arkansas have put the “mature minor doctrine” into their laws, which has also been adopted by many state courts. Generally, the doctrine states that any person of ordinary intelligence and awareness sufficient to comprehend the need for, nature of and risks involved in medical care is competent to consent on his or her own. Idaho Stat. §39-4503 (2011); Ark. Code Ann. §20-9-602(7) (2011).
Oregon allows youth age 15 or over to consent to hospital care and medical, dental surgical diagnosis or treatment without the consent of a parent or guardian. Louisiana has a similar law. Or. Rev. Stat. §109.640 (2011). La. R.S. §40:1095 (2011).
Kentucky has a law stating that a minor’s consent, relied on in good faith, is effective if the minor represents that he or she may give effective consent, even if in fact the consent is not valid. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 214.185.
Pennsylvania and South Carolina have laws permitting physicians to provide medical, dental and health services without the consent of a parent or legal guardian when, in the physician’s judgment, an attempt to secure consent would result in delay of treatment which would increase the risk to the minor’s life or health. 35 Penn. Stat. §10104; S.C. Code Ann. §63-5-350 (2011).

[vi] Chapin Hall (2016). Missed Opportunities.

[vii] America’s Promise Alliance, Center for Promise at Tufts University (2014). Don’t Call Them Dropouts.

[viii] Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (2016). America’s Divided Recovery.