Q&A From the Field

Unaccompanied Youth

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A pivotal issue in this scenario is that the student is saying that not changing their chosen name and gender identity is not a barrier to enrollment (which includes attending classes and participating fully in school activities).  States, school districts, and charter schools need to revise policies to remove barriers to identification, enrollment, and retention in school (42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(1)(I)). If the student indicates that not being able to change the information in the student information system makes the student hesitant to come to school or otherwise is a barrier to identification, enrollment, or retention in school, then you would need to allow the change without parental signature or notification. It’s important to have these conversations sensitively with students and ensure barriers are removed, particularly given that transgender students are ten times more likely to experience homelessness than cisgender students.

However, if the policy is not a barrier to identification, enrollment, or retention, then the district would need to apply the same rules to McKinney-Vento students as you’d apply to housed students around a procedure like this. If at any point not being able to make those changes becomes a barrier to the student attending or participating fully in school, then you would need to revise the policy to allow the youth to make the change independently from parents.

Unfortunately, she must show that at least one parent is aware that she’s applying for a passport. There does not appear to be any way around that requirement until she turns 18. More information is available on this website.

We have a document that summarizes general minor medical consent rules state by state, including vaccines. Most states allow unaccompanied youth to consent for routine health care. In states that do not have a law, liaisons can try to help the youth get consent from a parent or legal guardian.  There usually are health care providers who will work with youth who need help and accept consent from a parent by phone, but the trick is finding such providers.   If possible, liaisons can try to work with parents to sign a health care power of attorney to give someone else the right to consent.  Those powers of attorney do not limit parental rights at all— they just give rights to a third party to consent.

In general, the process for dropping out should be the same for this student as for other students. However, prior to informing the student’s father, it would be critical to discuss potential safety issues with her. For example, does the student fear abuse or retaliation of some kind if her father finds out she is dropping out of school?

Beyond the mechanics of how she might drop out is an investigation into why she wants to drop out and what supports can be put in place. For example, she may intend to enroll in an alternative program. Some programs require the student officially drop out of their previous school before they can enter. If that is the case, it is important to make sure the student has a process available to her as an unaccompanied youth under the McKinney-Vento Act to drop out without a parent’s signature. If she is not on track to graduate from her current school and wants to disenroll so she can enter a different program that better suits her needs, the school should facilitate her enrollment in the alternative program.

On the other hand, would any additional services or supports keep her in her current school and help her be successful? She may be close to graduation and be able to get across the finish line with some additional support. Since the McKinney-Vento Act requires LEAs to remove barriers to retention in school, the district needs to provide supports that could prevent her from dropping out.  42 USC §11432(g)(1)(I). For example, accelerated credit accrual, flexibility, extra academic support, mental health support, or other resources could help the student remain in school and be successful.

SEAs and LEAs must “review and revise policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths…” 42 USC §11432(g)(1)(I). Sometimes, withdrawing from school is a step in the process to enroll in a new school. Therefore, the ability to withdraw is important, and LEAs must ensure there are not barriers to withdrawal. The McKinney-Vento Act would require that there be a way for an unaccompanied youth to withdraw from school; however, the district can determine the elements of that process. Depending on the circumstances, allowing the youth do withdraw directly probably is the easiest process, and also makes the most sense when district policy also allows unaccompanied youth to enroll themselves.

It also would be important to keep in mind whatever your state laws are for compulsory attendance, so that you are providing comparable treatment to unaccompanied youth. For example, if the youth is within the age for compulsory attendance, what would be the process if a parent was withdrawing the youth, in terms of following up on subsequent enrollment and truancy? The district should have comparable policies for unaccompanied youth.

Yes. The minor can get the card without a parent.  However, there are document requirements that can be difficult to fulfill without a parent.  The requirements are here.  A school ID can prove identity, but the student will need a birth certificate or a passport, as well.

Yes. Based on the information that you have provided, this student meets the definition of both unaccompanied and homeless, and is therefore eligible for the protections and services of the McKinney-Vento Act.

She meets the definition of unaccompanied (not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian) because the mother had her parental rights terminated and is no longer her legal guardian. 42 USC 11434a(6). Although her mother is a parent biologically, she is no longer a parent legally. The facts that you presented also indicate that the student’s current living situation is not fixed, regular, and adequate, and therefore that she also would meet the definition of homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Act.

Based on this information, the student should be enrolled as an unaccompanied homeless youth, following whatever procedures your school district usually follows to ensure immediate enrollment for unaccompanied youth. We also wonder if her school of origin has been considered. It’s not clear how far she lives from her school of origin, but considering that she is 17, it might be very much in her best interest to remain in the same school, particularly if changing schools could jeopardize her ability to graduate on time, and considering the upheaval she is going through outside of school. We also recommend that the school counselor or social worker check in with the student periodically to see how things are going at home. We don’t know about the student’s mother’s history or present situation, but there is objective reason to monitor the situation.

The student will have to get a replacement copy of her Naturalization Certificate. The application for a replacement Naturalization Certificate is here.

She needs to complete that fully.  To avoid the fee, she needs to submit with the application a form I-912, which is the request for fee waiver. That form and instructions are here.

She will need to show that, “Your household income is at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.”  (This is box number two on the form.) This likely will not be a problem since she is an unaccompanied homeless youth.  A letter from your school documenting her homelessness will be a helpful addition to the application. If she fills out the application completely, she should get the waiver.

Since she’s requesting the fee waiver, she probably should do this by mail, rather than online.  It is apparent that time is an issue for her financial aid, and the processing of these forms will take time.  So we suggest letting the college financial aid office know she is requesting the copy, and even sending them copies of her replacement application and fee waiver form.  Hopefully the office will be willing to give her a break on deadlines.

Below is the exact language from the McKinney-Vento Act.  The citation is 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(I). This student has been missing school after becoming homeless.  He now faces barriers to graduation due to his homelessness and the absences. The district has a choice between helping the student graduate and the student dropping out of school just weeks prior to graduation.  It seems clear that helping the student is in the best interest of both the student and the school. Helping the student also is required by federal law. The law requires the LEA to remove barriers to enrollment and retention in school.  The prospect of not graduating just days or weeks shy of the end of the student’s senior year is an extreme barrier. The LEA must remove this barrier. Allowing the student to make up work and sit for his exam is a simple way to remove the barrier.  If LEA policy impedes removing the barrier, then the policy must be changed and/or an exception made.

“(I) A demonstration that the State educational agency and local educational agencies in the State have developed, and shall review and revise, policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools in the State, including barriers to enrollment and retention due to outstanding fees or fines, or absences.”

[Update: the student was allowed to make up his work.]

No. The McKinney-Vento Act requires states and school districts to:

“review and revise, policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools”  (42 USC 11432(g)(1)(I))

A blanket reporting obligation— that all unaccompanied youth must be reported to child welfare — will create a grave barrier to the identification, enrollment, and retention of unaccompanied youth in school. Based on many conversations with unaccompanied youth, as well as research, we know that the mere fact that a report is made is enough to keep youth away from school.  We have heard many examples of students disappearing from school when they found out a child welfare report had been made. A policy-advocacy group of homeless youth in CA put child welfare reporting as their number one concern and barrier to accessing services. Some studies indicate that as few as 1 in 12 homeless youth access services due primarily to fears of being reported to child welfare and/or police. In addition, surveys we have completed with unaccompanied youth across the country always show fear of a child welfare report to be among the top two barriers preventing youth from seeking services. A 2016 study found similar results.

In sum, blanket reporting violates the McKinney-Vento Act because it creates a barrier to identification, enrollment and retention in school. Even if state laws require reporting of unaccompanied youth, there is a constitutional requirement that federal law supersedes state law when there is a conflict.  (This requirement is found in the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.) In this situation, a state law requirement to report actually creates a barrier to enrollment under the McKinney-Vento Act. Schools must follow the McKinney-Vento Act over state law

If a child or youth is in danger due to current abuse, then educators probably do need to make a child welfare agency referral.  But youth are unaccompanied for many different reasons, and they stay in many different living situations, and not all of them rise to the level of a child welfare report. Case-by-case reporting based on what is actually, currently going on with the youth makes sense and is necessary, and wouldn’t be a barrier to enrollment any more than providing a youth with any kind of medical or other treatment the youth needs on an emergency basis.  We also always suggest liaisons and other school staff talk with youth prior to making any report, letting the youth know about mandatory reporting and giving the youth the option to decide what to reveal and discuss, knowing the consequences of a possible child welfare referral. It gives the youth some self-determination and control over their own lives.

No. The sister does not have to have legal custody of her siblings to get food stamp (SNAP) benefits for her siblings.  SNAP eligibility is based on a household, which is defined as people who purchase and prepare food together. Custody, guardianship, or similar relationships are not required. Even beyond that, in this situation the sister is exercising “parental control” over her younger siblings.  That gives her even more right to obtain SNAP benefits on their behalf. (Note that when an unaccompanied youth is staying with someone temporarily, not purchasing or preparing food together, and not under that person’s “parental control”, the unaccompanied youth would apply for SNAP on her own, as a household of one.)  The last page of this memo from USDA provides more information.

No, that is not correct. The Application and Verification Guide (AVG) from the US Department of Education is clear on this point.  On pages 121-122, the guide contains the following information:

  1. About the definition of homeless:  “It also includes living in the school dormitory if the student would otherwise be homeless.
  2. About accepting letters from liaisons: “local liaisons may write subsequent year letters of verification for unaccompanied homeless youth through age 23 for whom they have the necessary information to write such letters. This documentation is acceptable for verifying unaccompanied homelessness.” and “It is not conflicting information if you disagree with an authority’s determination that a student is homeless.”

The AVG is available here.

Unless the student has reunified with her parents and has stable, regular and safe housing outside of the dorm, for school breaks and summer, and also is no longer at risk of homelessness, the student continues to be an unaccompanied homeless youth.  She is automatically independent as an unaccompanied homeless youth, as verified by the liaison.

Please see below for the State Department’s commentary about passports for minors.  The McKinney-Vento Act does not change these requirements, since the State Department is not bound by the MV Act, so no one from the school will be able to sign for a minor to get a passport.

“If you have your own current identification document (ID), you may apply for a passport. You must show at least one parent or guardian knows that you are applying for a passport. Your passport application may be denied if we have received written objection from one of your parents or legal guardians. For more information, please see Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.

How to Show Parental Awareness:

A parent or legal guardian appearing with you in person when you apply for your passport. The agent or employee accepting the application will ask your parent or legal guardian to sign Form DS-11.

A signed, notarized statement consenting to issuance of a passport from at least one parent or legal guardian (should be accompanied by a photocopy of that parent or guardian’s ID).”

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/apply-renew-passport/16-17.html

Yes. ESSA amended the McKinney-Vento Act to require school districts to “give priority to” the wishes of an unaccompanied youth. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(3)(B)(iv). Prior to ESSA, the law said to “consider” the wishes of the youth. The change is significant, as it clarifies that, for unaccompanied youth, the school must follow the youth’s placement wishes, limited only by a best interest determination made by the school. And if the school district makes a determination contrary to the youth’s wishes, the youth must be given the opportunity to appeal the decision. This applies when a youth wants to enroll in a school/district, and the parent wants the youth in a different school/district.

Here is the actual language:

“(iv) in the case of an unaccompanied youth, ensure that the local educational agency liaison designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii) assists in placement or enrollment decisions under this subparagraph, gives priority to the views of such unaccompanied youth, and provides notice to such youth of the right to appeal under subparagraph (E).”

NCHE’s unaccompanied youth issue brief is probably your best bet. It includes the legal citations about the right to immediate enrollment, without proof of guardianship, and of course “enrollment” means “attending classes and participating fully in school activities.” It discusses the requirement for LEAs to develop, review, and revise policies to remove barriers to the identification, enrollment, and retention of homeless children and youth, including barriers due to outstanding fees, fines, or absences. Also, it specifically discusses allowing youth to enroll themselves. Lastly, because it is from NCHE, it might have more clout with a resistant district; the last page specifically mentions the U.S. Department of Education. Also, you could show the entire U.S. Department of Education’s Guidance. Question I-5 might be helpful, in addition to the tips on page 26.

Yes, both the school and the student have rights in this situation. First, the runaway report. Schools don’t make runaway reports. Parents make runaway reports to law enforcement. So the stepfather can make a report, and should not ask the school to do that. If a runaway report is made to law enforcement, and the school is aware of the report, the school has to contact law enforcement or child protective services or the parent. The point of the contact is to let someone know where the youth is. In this case, the stepdad knows where the youth is. The stepdad can go to law enforcement and tell them where the youth is. The school does not need to be involved, and in fact should not be involved. This is a family matter that the stepdad needs to deal with, not the school.

In addition, the McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to remove barriers to identification, enrollment, and retention in school. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(1)(I). Calling the police in this situation would present a tremendous barrier to identification, enrollment, and retention and would violate the McKinney-Vento Act. The school also is not required to complete any paperwork related to child support. In fact, I would suggest your district speak with an attorney before completing any such paperwork. I suspect the paperwork requires the school to verify information about the support the stepdad provides to the youth. Since you have identified the student as an unaccompanied youth, it would not be appropriate for you to provide the court with information stating the stepdad is supporting the student. Assuming the student is 16 years old or older, the student can get social security benefits transferred to his own name. He will need to do that at a social security office. If you (or someone else appropriate from school) could accompany him, or at least give him a letter on your letterhead describing his situation, that would be very helpful. He can get an appointment at the Social Security office by calling 800-772-1213.

Hopefully, at least the youth will able to switch payment of the Social Security benefits. The youth also can switch Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, if stepdad is getting any of those.

If your district wants to attempt to get powers of attorney signed, that is fine as a practice.  It can be helpful to access medical care and other services. But be aware that it cannot delay enrollment.  The student must be attending classes and participating fully in school activities while the school attempts to get a parent or legal guardian to sign the power of attorney.

Yes, you are exactly right! The requirement for a caretaker to get temporary guardianship is a barrier to enrollment that would be a violation of McKinney-Vento. The time it takes to get guardianship, the cost and the paperwork would delay enrollment, and that is an unacceptable barrier under McKinney-Vento.

You are exactly right that unaccompanied youth can access SNAP. There is no age limit and no requirement that youth live with their parents or apply with their parents. This memo from the USDA describes how unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 18 are eligible for SNAP benefits.

Also, you can view a webinar about SNAP benefits for unaccompanied homeless youth, featuring our own Patricia Julianelle, Ty Jones of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Courtney Smith of the Detroit Phoenix Center (and SHC Board member).

Additional Question: Also, does it matter if a child has been at a certain address for an extended period of time? For example, I have a student that has been with her boyfriend’s parents for almost two years. She is only 17. Mom lives in another state. I’m concerned that SNAP would say with the “stability” of her home address that she wouldn’t qualify.

Answer: The length of time a student has a particular address doesn’t affect eligibility. There is no automatic homeless eligibility for SNAP (like there is for school meals).  Eligibility is based on income, and “household” size.  The definition of household is people who customarily purchase and prepare food together. The SNAP office could look at the length of time a student is in a particular place as part of determining whether the youth is part of the “household” with the other residents of the home.  But really, how long a youth is in a particular home is not relevant—the issue is whether they purchase and prepare food together.

Bottom line, this student should qualify for SNAP— but if she is purchasing and preparing food with the boyfriend’s family, they might all be considered one “household”, and that would mean the entire family’s income would count.  That might bump them out of eligibility.

You absolutely did the right thing for the 14-year old youth. The McKinney-Vento Act requires immediate enrollment in school for all homeless youth, including unaccompanied homeless youth. The law also directs schools to review and revise policies that act as barriers to enrollment, specifically those barriers related to guardianship.

Full Question: We have a 14-year old boy whose suspension ended and needed to re-enroll back in school. He and his mother other have many issues in the home, so he ran away to live with his friend’s family. His friend’s mother called me and asked if she could enroll the boy back into school because the boy’s mother is not being cooperative.

After many phone calls with the school and working with enrollment personnel, we end up talking with this boy’s mother. She is very upset that her son is living with his friend’s family and that his friend’s mother would be allowed to enroll him into school. She explained to me the many issues she and her son are having in the home.  She recently got a new job. If she took any time away she would lose the job.

I gave his friend’s mother a caregiver form to enroll the student back into school. This has brought up many questions with the principal and administrators about letting strangers enroll kids in school, etc. I have explained the McKinney-Vento Act, as I always do, but there is still some pushback.  This is an unusual situation for me where a guardian is in the same town and very upset that someone else is enrolling the child into school, but is also unwilling to be involved at the same time.

I guess my question is first, did I handle the situation correctly by giving a caregiver form and helping the student get enrolled back into school?  Would you all have any suggestions for situations like this?

Full Answer: You absolutely did the right thing for this 14-year old student.  The McKinney-Vento Act requires immediate enrollment in school for all homeless youth, including unaccompanied homeless youth. The law also directs schools to review and revise policies that act as barriers to enrollment, specifically those barriers related to guardianship. You can remind the principals and administrators that you are following federal law, and that this specific issue (unhappy parent of unaccompanied youth) has been dealt with by other states, with the rights of the youth upheld. Our job is to ensure that youth are in school, so that education is not disrupted during family struggles.

The mother still retains her parental rights, and she can access educational records and otherwise be involved with the student’s education.  But as for other issues within the family, it is great to refer her to community services or other resources that can help the family with those issues.  But you need to be clear with her (and your administrators) that the school’s legal obligation is to educate in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act, and that is what you are doing.

Here are some legal citations to help:

  • The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to enroll students experiencing homelessness immediately, even if the student is unable to provide documents that are typically required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation. 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C).
  • Enroll means permitting the student to attend classes and participate fully in school activities. 42 U.S.C. §11434A(1).
  • Lack of a legal guardian or guardianship documents cannot delay or prevent the enrollment of an unaccompanied youth. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(3)(C), (g)(1)(H)(iv).
  • The McKinney-Vento Act requires states and LEAs to eliminate barriers to identification, enrollment and retention and to enroll unaccompanied youth in school immediately. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(1)(I), (g)(7).

Let’s talk through the non McKinney-Vento legalities first, for context. These caregivers have no legal rights over the child unless the parents or a court gives them rights. The parent(s) could sign a simple power of attorney that gives the caregiver(s) the right to make medical, educational and other decisions. That would be legally valid and does not need court involvement. There also could be court involvement and a guardianship or custody order, but that is less likely, due to the cost and time involved, if nothing else.

So in this situation, where it sounds like there is nothing giving the caregivers any rights (neither power of attorney nor court order), then McKinney-Vento is clear and rules the day. The student is an unaccompanied youth, and therefore the school must prioritize her wishes. (ESSA now requires that the liaison “assists in placement or enrollment decisions…, gives priority to the views of such unaccompanied youth, and provides notice to such youth of the right to appeal.”) Therefore, the liaison must assist in the decision and prioritize the student’s wishes. If he and the student are in agreement about school of origin, then that is where the student should attend. The caregivers have no legal say in the decision and no right to access the appeal process, because the youth can access the appeal process on her own.

If the caregivers get a power of attorney, then things change. While the liaison still must assist in the decision and prioritize the views of the youth, the caregivers have legal rights. The caregiver should be able to access to the dispute process. If they get an actual court order making them legal guardians, then the student technically is no longer an “unaccompanied youth”, and so in that case we think you have to treat the caregivers like parents.

Our go-to resource for these kinds of questions comes from our colleagues at the National Network for Youth, in this document.

You can look up your state’s laws. Some states allow unaccompanied youth and/or youth of certain ages to request birth certificates on their own behalf. When the liaison starts working on this, we would suggest calling the appropriate office or if possible going to a physical office, with the youth. It is not uncommon for people processing these requests not to know the law and decline the application without further investigation. A phone call or office visit could help generate some awareness, and the opportunity to ensure the application is handled by someone who knows the law.

While the statute itself does not contain such requirements, regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Family and Youth Services Bureau do contain a requirement that a program contact a youth’s parents, legal guardians or other relatives within 72 hours of a youth entering the program. However, these regulations were revised last fall in response to comments from advocates, including SchoolHouse Connection, to specify that such contact is based on the best interest of the youth. If a program determines that it is not in the youth’s best interest to contact a youth’s parents, legal guardians or other relatives, or if such individuals cannot be located or the youth refuses to disclose their contact information, the program must inform another adult identified by the youth, document why it is not in the best interest to contact a parent, legal guardian or other relative, and send the documentation to the regional program specialist. You can read the requirements and other related information on page 34 of the regulations, and specifically §1351.24(e).

This depends on state law. Some states do not require work permits or allow youth to sign on their own. Other states have different requirements for different types of jobs. Your state does require a parent or guardian’s signature for the work permit. Since the McKinney-Vento Act is an education law, it does not apply to employment permits.

Let’s start with the legal authority for youth signing themselves out: State plans must include a “demonstration that the State educational agency and local educational agencies in the State have developed, and shall review and revise, policies to remove barriers to the identification of homeless children and youths, and the enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths in schools in the State.” (42 USC sec. 11432(g)(1)(I))

Your district has to have a way for unaccompanied youth to participate fully in school. That includes signing in and out due to doctor’s appointments, etc. The Mckinney-Vento Act does not prescribe a required manner to remove the barrier. So for example, if the youth has a caregiver, the district could have the caregiver sign the student in/out. But there needs to be a process for youth who truly have no one. To address the barrier, your district can establish the process that unaccompanied youth sign themselves out. That is the most common process we see.

Having a form to share the names of your unaccompanied youth with appropriate school staff who have “a legitimate educational interest” in the information (FERPA language) makes sense. You are sharing the information for a particular, education-related purpose — specifically, so that the school can appropriately implement the youths’ McKinney-Vento rights. You might want to share that information for other reasons too. Like for example, now that ESSA requires that McKinney-Vento students are assisted by school counselors, you might want to inform counselors who the McKinney-Vento students in their school are, so they can be sure to connect with those students and offer assistance. Counselors can help with partial credits, too (another ESSA requirement). Just like you let transportation staff know about McKinney-Vento students so they can provide timely and appropriate transportation, letting the front office staff know so they can allow students to sign themselves in and out is acceptable under FERPA and a good practice under McKinney-Vento.

The only caution is to make sure those you are informing have some basic trauma-informed and sensitivity training, so they use the information carefully and appropriately, and don’t stigmatize or embarrass the students.

There is no duty for schools to find or contact an unaccompanied youth’s parents or guardians. However, if a parent or legal guardian contacts the school to inquire about his or her child, the school must share the student’s educational records with the parent/legal guardian, upon confirming their identity, unless the youth has alleged abuse and the school has contacted Child Protective Services or law enforcement. In that case, the school should refer the parent to the appropriate agency. Once the youth turns 18, the youth gains control over records disclosure.

In addition, it seems like it would be very beneficial for someone the student trusts to talk to him about the home situation. We know it can take a long time for youth to feel enough trust to disclose what is really going on at home. Still, someone could sit down with him, explain that the school is required to share school records with the youth’s parents, and try to find out if there is a risk of abuse. Depending on what is disclosed, the school may need to call CPS, which could trigger that court order keeping the parents away. At the same time, it could trigger child welfare involvement that the youth may not (probably does not) want. So a clear, honest conversation with the student about the various consequences would at least help the student feel some small level of control over his circumstances.

The McKinney-Vento Act does not address that issue. It would depend on your state law. Most if not all McKinney-Vento students would be eligible for Medicaid (under 19 and very low-income). An unaccompanied youth should be able to apply on his or her own, but it may require a phone call or two to find the right person who can understand the situation and assist with the application process. For costs that aren’t covered by insurance, hospitals and doctors have their own procedures for how they handle billing, and it would be the same for your students. Of course, those debts can follow the students and parents for years, so it’s really important to get them on insurance as soon as possible

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, lack of a legal guardian or guardianship documents cannot delay or prevent the immediate enrollment of an unaccompanied youth. The legal citation is 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(3)(C), (g)(1)(H)(iv).

LEAs may adopt their own policies to meet these mandates. However, whatever procedures are used, those procedures must ensure immediate enrollment, as the McKinney-Vento Act requires states and LEAs to eliminate barriers to identification, enrollment and retention and to enroll unaccompanied youth in school immediately. 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(1)(I), (g)(7).

The Caregiver Authorization Affidavit does not confer parental rights – it merely gives the school district a document to substitute for typical enrollment forms. In cases of potential trafficking, the safest place for unaccompanied youth to be is in school immediately. Having the youth in school, and having the contact information of the person with whom they are staying, is the best way to follow up and ensure the student’s safety, if there are suspicions. Turning the youth away not only would violate federal law, it also would place the youth in greater harm’s way.

Unaccompanied youth do not need to provide host family information on SNAP applications unless they are purchasing and preparing food together with the host family, or if they are under “parental control” of the host family. It’s a case-by-case decision, but in our experience, most unaccompanied youth do not meet either of those criteria. There is a memo addressing this specific issue here.

Emancipation is determined by state law and is not part of the inquiry as far as education goes under the McKinney-Vento Act. If a student is an unaccompanied youth under McKinney-Vento, the student has the right to immediate enrollment in school, regardless of whether the student is emancipated under state law. The student can enroll in school as an unaccompanied youth and can have an adult present with her at school meetings, even if that adult is not her parent.  She can apply as an unaccompanied youth on the FAFSA, and the liaison has to assist her in obtaining verification of her status to provide to the financial aid office.

The school should work with the unaccompanied youth, but may also provide services or referrals to the parent. ESSA made this clear by amending the language around school placement and enrollment of unaccompanied youth. The new language is “give priority to” the views of unaccompanied youth, where it used to say “consider”:

“(iv) in the case of an unaccompanied youth, ensure that the local educational agency liaison designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii) assists in placement or enrollment decisions under this subparagraph, gives priority to the views of such unaccompanied youth, and provides notice to such youth of the right to appeal under subparagraph (E).”  42 USC 11432(g)(3)(A)(iv)

Also, throughout the law, including in the dispute language, the law uses the phrase “the parent or guardian of the child or youth or (in the case of an unaccompanied youth) the youth”.

It’s clearly “or”: the parent or guardian OR the unaccompanied youth.  It doesn’t say AND.  So I think only the youth has the right to access the dispute process.  I realize that leaves schools at the mercy of angry parents. Finessing that relationship, referring families for counseling and family reunification services in the community, etc. are really critical.

Under McKinney-Vento, schools are required to review and revise policies and practices that are barriers to enrollment. Enrollment is defined as attending classes and participating fully in school activities. An overnight field trip with a class sounds like a school activity. Therefore, the school must find a way for the unaccompanied homeless youth to participate in the school activity. This could include signature by the youth herself, the liaison, or a caretaker – very similar methods to how unaccompanied youth enroll in school without parents, and over parental objections.

One concern: Since the student is still a minor, and the parent is specifically saying she does NOT want the student to go on this field trip, it definitely opens the district up to liability. McKinney-Vento acts somewhat as a shield, but it is a risk if there were to be an accident or other problem on the trip. It may be a good idea to talk to the school district lawyer about it.

Follow up note: This liaison spoke with the district lawyer, who agreed that it was ok for the student to go on the field trip, since she is on her own.

Unaccompanied youth must be able to participate fully, and immediately. School districts have flexibility in how they implement these policies, but their policies cannot pose barriers. If a caregiver is reluctant to sign, that could be a barrier; the school then must find another way to comply. It could be the youth himself or herself; it could be the liaison, or other designated staff. But there has to be a policy that does not present new barriers.

The bottom line is that the law requires immediate enrollment, and the definition of enrollment is “attending classes and participating fully in school activities.” The law further requires local educational agencies to review and revise policies that act as barriers to identification, enrollment, and retention.

The McKinney-Vento Act requires immediate enrollment, which includes attending classes and participating fully in school activities. 42 USC 11432(g)(3)(C) and 11434a(1).  The Act also requires the SEAs and LEAs revise policies to eliminate barriers to enrollment and retention in school. 42 USC 11432(g)(1)(I). The bottom line is that the district must have some mechanism in place so that unaccompanied youth can participate fully and don’t face barriers to enrollment or retention. That requires some policy to be sure youth can leave for doctor appointments (in addition to many other things). It does not require that youth be allowed to check themselves out. But if not the youth, then the principal, or liaison, or social worker, or someone else has to do it. There has to be a policy in place that works, and that does not create barriers for the youth.

You are exactly right that unaccompanied youth can access SNAP. There is no age limit and no requirement that youth live with their parents or apply with their parents. A memo from the USDA describes how unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 18 are eligible for SNAP benefits.

Also, you can view a webinar about SNAP benefits for unaccompanied homeless youth, featuring our own Patricia Julianelle, Ty Jones of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Courtney Smith of the Detroit Phoenix Center (and SHC Board member).

The length of time a student has a particular address doesn’t affect eligibility. There is no automatic homeless eligibility for SNAP (like there is for school meals). Eligibility is based on income, and “household” size. The definition of household is people who customarily purchase and prepare food together. The SNAP office could look at the length of time a student is in a particular place as part of determining whether the youth is part of the “household” with the other residents of the home. But really, how long a youth is in a particular home is not relevant—the issue is whether they purchase and prepare food together.

Bottom line, this student should qualify for SNAP— but if she is purchasing and preparing food with the boyfriend’s family, they might all be considered one “household”, and that would mean the entire family’s income would count. That might bump them out of eligibility.