Lost in the news cycle of the homeless epidemic is the effects that it has on children. On children, the effects of homelessness can be crippling and life altering. If left unaddressed, the child’s circumstances can turn into a vicious, hard-to-break cycle that will follow them through life.
When families are on the outside of a stable home environment, their community ties and social structures rapidly crumble. When the basic needs of the family aren’t met, school is far from their first priority. What many take for granted daily can become insurmountable barriers for these families: transportation, food, childcare.
Without adequate transportation, the child has no way of getting to school and the parent has no means for acquiring gainful employment. Without access to nutritious food, the child’s physical condition deteriorates and they find themselves in poor health. Poor physical health leads to poor mental and emotional health. When living in constant crisis, it can have a detrimental effect on a child’s frontal lobe.
Improving School Attendance (ISA) works in partnership with Housing Hope to support children and families experiencing homelessness. ISA relies on the Health and Well-Being Monitor to identify the needs of local families. “Often, families do not communicate all of their needs,” said Monica Best-Wilson, a school psychologist and program coordinator with ISA, “they’ll tell you one or two, but the Health and Well-being Monitor help us to see the big picture – things they may not have even considered — like relationships and access to healthy food”
After walking families through the monitor, ISA formulates a plan that helps families on their journey to self-sufficiency. “It has developed into one of the most important tools in our arsenal.” Best-Wilson continued, “we re-administer it to our families every 6 months to see what has improved and where our focus needs to shift.”
“It has developed into one of the most important tools in our arsenal.” Best-Wilson continued, “we re-administer it to our families every 6 months to see what has improved and where our focus needs to shift.”
“We’ve found that when reaching out to families in need, sharing their stories with yet another person re-opens the vein of trauma. By the time we get involved, the family has connected with other family members, advocates and social workers. To them, we are just another face,” she said. “We strive to end the stigma that ‘no one cares’ by showing the families that we operate with a long-term outlook. We are thinking about more than their next meal. In fact, our timelines run 3-5 years down the road, when the changes really start bearing fruit. Our maximum caseload is 6 families at any given time so that we can focus on making lasting changes.”
The ultimate goal at ISA is to disrupt the cycle of homelessness and get children back into school where they have access to education, social mentors, and healthy nutrition. Keeping children engaged in their education helps to instill a life-long confidence. In order to disrupt the cycle, we help repair relationships on all levels. This can be in between the parent and child, school and child, and the parent and school.
If you can reduce an absence into a tardy, then you can eventually turn tardies into full days of school.”
Stabilizing the health of the home and the family is paramount to tackling the homelessness epidemic in our communities. By helping each individual child, ISA helps to improve the health of the community as a whole. “It takes small and sustainable steps to provide the best path towards improving school attendance. If you can reduce an absence into a tardy, then you can eventually turn tardies into full days of school.”