"Whose job is it to recognize a child from a homeless family?"
The answer, of course is "it's everyone's job." But change the question to this:
"Who has the greatest opportunity to recognize a child from a homeless family?"
Only one answer remains: The classroom teacher.
Office managers may recognize signs when a family registers, but many kids become homeless after that. The homeless liaison is not in daily contact with the students and the school counselor doesn't see every child or youth every day.
But we do.
It would be much easier if a parent would simply show up one day and state, "We've become homeless." Many, however, don't know that their situation qualifies and many more are embarrassed...or afraid of the reaction of child protective authorities if they bring attention to their situation.
Families with children living in emergency shelters, pop-up campers, cars and tents can be charged with neglect by Child Protective Services workers, and there have been instances where parents have lost custody.
Case studies can give us a sense of what to look for.
The discussion on the homelessness recognition and reporting page - as well as the downloadable checklist - will give you tools you need to ensure that our obligations to help out homeless children and youth are met.
Every child wants to fit in, but more importantly, as they get older, they don't want to stand out. Social awareness increases with age, and a student who is comparing herself to peers will start to notice that her living situation is a potential source of embarrassment.
At the elementary level, where things are more more black-and-white, perceptions may center around:
In middle school and beyond:
Teachers can do more in the elementary grades to level the playing field, since there is nearly always a source of clothing and backpacks available to most schools. In middle and high school, a teacher can provide the best impact by simply ensuring inclusion in the classroom and that classroom routines don't make the student stand out.
This site is about classroom reality, not fantasy. I would be remiss if I failed to mention a sense of entitlement that can creep into the child of a homeless family. This usually relates to possessions, rather than accommodations made in the classroom.
At some point, a homeless student may begin to develop a feeling that they are owed "things"...because things seem to be provided whenever they are needed. This is not greed, it is simple deductive reasoning on their parts.
But it is not healthy or productive to encourage this. For example (as has happened in my class), if the school provides a backpack and the next week the student is looking for another one because they didn't keep track of the original...the answer is "no...go find it."
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The Homeless Student Article Directory
Direct links to ALL homeless student articles on this site
Homeless Family Case Studies
Lessons we can learn from homeless scenarios
Recognizing Homeless Kids in your Classroom
Signs and signals that indicate a need for services
Classroom Accommodations for Homeless Children
How to help your students overcome their challenges