Researchers Highlight Recommendations for Helping Homeless Youth Complete High School

Encourage better access to no-barrier educational services, well-being supports

By providing street-level supports and offering continuous enrollment options, the community can help support young people who are homeless and want to finish high school.

These are but two findings of research conducted by Jayne Malenfant, along with Dr. Naomi Elizabeth Nichols, for a project exploring the challenges and opportunities for youth who are homeless and trying to complete high school.

“Beyond housing, enabling strong and meaningful connections to school is one of the most efficient and effective interventions to ensure young people are integrated in and contribute to their communities and experience a sense of purposefulness and well-being throughout adulthood.”

“Beyond housing, enabling strong and meaningful connections to school is one of the most efficient and effective interventions to ensure young people are integrated in and contribute to their communities and experience a sense of purposefulness and well-being throughout adulthood,” they say.

“Young people who are experiencing homelessness have difficulty sustaining a connection to school — in large part because mainstream programs have not been designed to accommodate the instability that comes with experiences of acute poverty and housing precarity or homelessness.”

Jayne, a graduate of Trent University, is a doctoral student in the Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University and the recipient of a 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholarship.

She has a personal connection to her research, having experienced precarious housing as a teen.

Dr. Nichols is a Trent University alumni member and grew up in Peterborough.

The researchers say youth can be supported by offering a no-barrier program bearing a flexible schedule, which accommodates young people’s quickly-evolving lives. Youth are not punished or excluded for missing school; rather, they are actively supported to participate as fully as they are able.

To achieve this, no-barrier programs often include things like food, access to mental health supports, addictions supports, reproductive and other health supports and legal aid.

To improve accessibility, they are often associated with youth shelters and targeted youth housing initiatives. They offer continuous enrollment — meaning young people can start work towards a secondary school credit at any time throughout the year.

“We need to offer young people multiple opportunities to (re)engage with education — from targeted, no-barrier street-level educational services.

“While they are working to find stability, youth need to be engaged with education in a way that makes sense for them — the right services can keep things on track.”

“While they are working to find stability, youth need to be engaged with education in a way that makes sense for them — the right services can keep things on track.”

They point to Peterborough’s Carriage House, increasingly structured low-barrier programs like Peterborough Alternative Continuing Education (PACE), and bridging programs between secondary and post-secondary initiatives to ensure that young people have access to the range of opportunities available to them through the post-secondary system.

The Carriage House provides a space for students to continue and complete their education. It works in partnership with PACE and other local schools to ensure that young people are able to access literacy basic-skills pre-credit programming, independent studies or mainstream programming as they conquer housing and other forms of stability in their lives.

Furthermore, the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB) — in partnership with Fleming College — also offers a successful dual credit bridging program, which supports young people to make an effective transition from independent study programs, like the ones offered at PACE, to post-secondary opportunities.

“We need all three types of programs in the community to ensure that all young people experience equitable access to education. When we don’t ensure that young people who face homelessness are staying engaged in education, we are setting them up to fail. High-school drop-outs have shorter life expectancies, are at greater risk of chronic illnesses, experience poverty and social exclusion, are less likely to be able to secure employment, especially as workers are increasingly expected to have post-secondary education to enter the labour market.”

They make these four recommendations for improvement in Ontario:

  1. Working in partnership with community-based organizations and other youth-serving agencies, such as child welfare organizations, communities should adopt school-based interventions programs through which young people at-risk of disengaging from school and experiencing homelessness are identified and offered housing, along with educational and social supports.
  2. School attendance monitoring practices, which require that young people are de-enrolled from schools after 15 consecutive days of non-attendance, are at odds with the incredible social and material instability associated with street life. This adds a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy for young people seeking to re-engage in school after a period of absence. To reduce barriers to educational participation for precariously-housed youth, this practice must be changed to increase ease of access to educational services for youth seeking to re-engage.
  3. Independent studies and alternative education programs seeking to engage the province’s most educationally-precarious youth require high adult-to-youth ratios. A combination of teachers and child and youth workers best enables the programs to support the educational and social needs of students. As such, per student funding allocations for these programs should be greater than in mainstream schools.
  4. All communities across the province need to design and implement a range of high-quality culturally-relevant educational initiatives, which engage young people who have disengaged or are at-risk of disengaging from school. We need multiple pathways into secondary and post-secondary educational opportunities, so that we are ensuring full and equal access to education for all of Ontario’s youth.

To read more about the research findings, click here.

Related Story:

Trent Graduate Explores Increasing Odds of Homeless Youth Completing Education

Lead image from Pixabay.

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