On May 19, 2021, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing entitled, “Picking up the Pieces: Strengthening Connections with Students Experiencing Homelessness and Children in Foster Care.” The hearing focused on the need for intensive efforts to re-engage students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care, and how funds included in the American Rescue Plan Act can be utilized in these efforts.

Witnesses included:

  • Jennifer Erb-Downward, Senior Research Associate, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan
  • Michelle Linder-Coates, Executive Director, Pre-K Partnerships, School District of Philadelphia
  • Dr. James Lane, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction, Virginia Department of Education
  • Gretchen Davis, Foster Parent

Their testimonies highlighted the difficulties faced by students experiencing homelessness and students in the foster care system in accessing education and receiving support, both prior to and after the pandemic.

During her testimony, Ms. Erd-Downward provided insight on the adverse educational, developmental, and health outcomes that are caused by housing instability. Ms. Erb-Downward also discussed the importance of utilizing funds included within the American Rescue Plan Act to identify children and youth experiencing homelessness, and provide them the necessary support to address disproportionate impacts.

“We have been in a reactive situation for years, and years where we are not close to identifying all the children who are homeless and now we have an opportunity to do that.” – Jennifer Erb-Downward

Ms. Linder-Coates provided information on the comprehensive support model utilized by the School District of Philadelphia. Ms. Linder-Coates detailed the district’s efforts to strengthen outreach and identification of families experiencing homelessness, including through early childhood self-assessment tools. She also described robust collaborations with various community partners, including social service agencies and the local public health authority, and partnership with the McKinney-Vento liaison, who refers eligible families to the Head Start program, and in turn, Head Start families are then referred to the McKinney-Vento liaison once they have completed the pre-K process. 

Gretchen Davis, a foster parent, spoke of the need for supplemental efforts to adequately address the educational needs of disadvantaged students if caretakers lack the resources and time to devote to supplemental education, or the community support. She also discussed the possibility of cases of unnoticed/underreported child abuse and neglect as schools continue their transition to building reopenings.

The final testimony came from Dr. James Lang, who spoke of some of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on students experiencing homelessness and students experiencing homelessness, including the disconnection of students from critical supports, typically provided through schools. Dr. Lang discussed the strain on the educational system to meet the needs of children and youth in foster care or experiencing homelessness, and the need for sustained and flexible resources to address their needs. He also highlighted efforts of the Virginia Department of Education, particularly those executed through Project HOPE – Virginia’s program for facilitating the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. Project HOPE has worked collaboratively with various community partners, including extensive partnership with school district McKinney-Vento liaisons, to leverage new federal funding resources to explore and implement innovative best-practices for students experiencing homelessness.

“Schools are more than the education experiences they provide. They also serve as safe havens, reliable sources of food, connection, and stability.” – Dr. James Lang

The question and answer section addressed ways to ensure families feel safe to disclose their housing status, and ensure they are able to receive the services and supports needed, rather than being at risk of losing their children, supporting young children experiencing homelessness or in the foster care system whose learning has been affected by the pandemic, and best uses for American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth funds.

“The research is clear. Students and children who do not have a stable housing situation or are removed from their families struggle to get the education they need to live independent and fulfilling lives and the money that Congress has made available will help these students and families with their needs to live such lives.” – Closing remarks of subcommittee chairman, Del. Gregorio Sablan

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