In 1987, Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to aid homeless persons. The Act defines the term "homeless children and youths" as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The Act explicitly includes within the definition of "homeless children and youths" those who are "awaiting foster care placement."
The categories of children who are defined as "homeless" and who are entitled to the protections under the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act are as follows:
Children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement.
Children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings; children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.
“Migratory children” who qualify as homeless under federal law because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii) above. The term "migratory children" means children who are (or whose parent(s) or spouse(s) are) migratory agricultural workers, including migratory dairy workers, or migratory fishermen, and who have moved from one school district to another in the preceding 36 months, in order to obtain (or accompany such parents or spouses in order to obtain) temporary or seasonal employment in agricultural or fishing work.
Children and youths "awaiting foster care placement," including those who live in shelters or are placed in emergency, interim or respite foster care; kinship care; evaluation or diagnostic centers or placements for the sole purpose of evaluation. Local school officials should consult with their county children and youth agencies whenever necessary to determine if a case-by-case basis, whether a child who does not clearly fall into one of these categories is nevertheless a child "awaiting foster care placement."
"Unaccompanied homeless youth" including any child who is "not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian." This includes youth who have run away from home, been thrown out of their home, been abandoned by parents or guardians, or separated from their parents for any other reason.
Under the Pennsylvania Education for Homeless Children and Youth State Plan, homeless children are defined as:
The McKinney-Vento Act states that it is the policy of Congress that state educational agencies shall ensure that each child of a homeless individual and each homeless youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths. 42 USCA § 11431. Specifically, 42 USCA § 11432(g)(3)(A) indicates that the local educational agency shall according to the child’s best interest:
- Children living with a parent in a domestic violence shelter;
- Runaway children and children and youth who have been abandoned or forced out of their home by parents or other caretakers;
- And school-aged parents living in houses for school-aged parents if they have no other available living accommodations.
The Federal mandage is to ensure that homeless children and youth have access to free appropriate public education on an equal basis with other children. Children who are homeless, including those living with others, may qualify for assistance with school lunch, with school supplies/materials, with tutoring,and with transportation so that they can remain in their school of origin.
- Continue the child's or youth's education in the school of origin for the duration of homelessness in any case in which a family becomes homeless between academic years or during an academic year; or for the remainder of the academic year, if the child or youth becomes permanently housed during an academic year.
- Or enroll the child or youth in any public school that non-homeless students who live in the attendance area in which the child or youth is actually living are eligible to attend.