Residential Instability and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Children and Education Program: What We Know, Plus Gaps in Research

This brief summarizes a study conducted by the Urban Institute of the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program and cites literature that examines the effects of residential instability on the academic outcomes of children.

Low-income families tend to move more frequently than their higher-income counterparts due to a variety of factors, the report states.  Residential instability tends to be a precursor for homelessness, and children in low-income families often move more than once a year.  According to the National Center for Homeless Education,  there was a 17 percent increase in the 2007-2008 academic year from the previous year in the number of homeless children enrolled in public schools in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education.

The authors of the report say that children can be impacted severely by a lack of stable housing.  Homeless children often suffer from high rates of hunger and malnourishment, mental and physical health problems and out-of-home placement in foster care.  

In addition, studies have shown that students with stable housing score higher on standardized tests than students who are highly mobile or homeless. Because they often have to change school frequently, these children are not able to maintain bonds with teachers and struggle constantly to catch up and adjust, the authors contend.

To diminish such effects of residential instability on youths, the McKinney-Vento ECHY program has been set up to identify homeless children to help them succeed in school, offer transportation to help increase attendance and enrollment and support them with tutoring and social services.  The report suggests future research, especially on the efficacy of the program.

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