Research Finds Homeless Students Understudied and Overlooked

Despite increasing recognition as a national problem, homeless students remain an understudied and overlooked population that endures multiple challenges, as do the schools and districts that serve them, according to a new report co-authored by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor. The comparative case study, published online in the Journal of Community Psychology, explored the identification, service provision and school experience of homeless students in high- and low-socioeconomic districts. Astor and his colleagues compared two California school districts and their four elementary and middle schools. They found that despite differences in the socioeconomic context, both districts were under-identifying homeless students. “Both districts were underserving and lacking awareness of homeless students that were not identified,” they wrote. However, they found that the low-socioeconomic district had far greater poverty awareness than the high-socioeconomic district and, subsequently, an existing organizational structure to support identified homeless students. “Poverty awareness and districts’ organizational structure are important contextual factors to consider in designing local and tailored interventions and services for homeless students,” they noted. Schools play a major role for homeless students and may be the last social institution with which they interact before disengaging from all social institutions. “Meeting the substantial challenges involved in building schools and districts that support homeless students will require district policies and practices that explicitly address issues of poverty, homelessness and injustice,” they conclude. “Poverty awareness and districts’ organizational structure are important contextual factors to consider in designing local and tailored interventions and services for homeless students.”

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