Homeless Kids and School Absenteeism

A new report from the Center for New York City affairs at The New School paints a troubling portrait of chronic absenteeism in New York City public schools and notes that it primarily affects children in low-income neighborhoods. The report, “Strengthening Schools by Strenthening Families” (available here), concludes that, “Chronic absenteeism in elementary schools is disproportionately a problem in poor and minority communities and it immediately puts students behind their middle-class peers.” (The New York Times provides a summary of the report here.)

In its executive summary, the report states that two of the major causes of chronic absenteeism are “dislocations caused by eviction” and “traveling between homeless shelters.” Unfortunately, the report does not highlight how the City’s homeless policies exacerbate these problems.

Data from the New York City Department of Homeless Services show that during the last fiscal year nearly 34,000 different NYC children slept in municipal shelters, more 18,000 of them school-age kids, and that at least one out of every five school-age homeless children failed to attend school regularly.

Research and experience have shown that homeless kids have a harder time in school, in part because the instability of their families’ lives makes it harder to attend classes regularly. Making matters worse, the Department of Homeless Services’ intake and placement policies often prevent children from attending school for long periods of time by bouncing them from one shelter to another night after night.

So, one way the Bloomberg administration can address chronic absenteeism – and help struggling homeless students – is to reform City homeless policies to ensure that every homeless school-age child can attend school.