Education Coordination for Homeless Children

Emerging Leader Fellow: Esther Cajuste, 2011-2012

The barriers to education of children experiencing homelessness are well-documented, including lack of adequate transportation to the school of origin, residency requirements, loss of records, and lack of access to healthcare.  To help address these barriers, in April 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) introduced the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act—also known as the McKinney-Vento Act.  The HEARTH Act makes several changes to HUD’s programs including new definitions of homelessness and a greater emphasis on prevention and provision of education services to children. It specifically requires that service providers designate an education coordinator to address the needs of homeless children. 

Using Project Home’s Rowan Homes, which provides permanent supportive housing for as many as 100 children, as a pilot site, Esther will identify resources and processes to help homeless family housing programs meet the new federal requirements. Her work will involve interviews with families, independent research on best practices, and identifying k-12 educational supports and opportunities available to homeless families from cradle-to-college-to-career.  Esther's fellowship will involve close collaboration with the Family Service Provider Network (a consortium of 25 providers) and the City-sponsored Children’s Working Group (a city-wide task force addressing the needs of homeless children).

The  project is poised to deliver a valuable resource for a network of providers in the City and serve as a rewarding opportunity for the candidate.  The key deliverable for the project is the development of a resource book that would enable homeless service providers to implement the new regulations and identify appropriate educational pathways for homeless children.

According to HUD’s homeless assistance funding application, the City of Philadelphia must apply as a “continuum of care” and the collective success of the full consortium is considered in the performance-based awards, rather than that of each entity within it. As such, the entire provider network has an incentive to invest in effective implementation of the regulations, including meeting the educational benchmarks. In proposing this fellowship, Project Home has been asked to develop strategies that the FSPN members can implement across the board to advance the education-related objectives for homeless youth. Esther's engagement will thus support not just the specific needs of the families at Rowan Homes, but of the entire network and working group, providing her with broad and deep exposure to the City’s homeless service system.