Homeless and Foster Youth Services
Report 22-08, December 2022
Major conclusions regarding youth experiencing homelessness are described below.
- The number of Florida students in grades K – 12 identified as homeless was close to 70,000 between school years 2013-14 and 2016-17, but there have been substantial increases after hurricanes followed by a substantial decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Of the 48 homeless liaisons responding to OPPAGA’s survey, 38 reported having at least a bachelor’s degree. Forty-six reported receiving training from the Florida Department of Education on their responsibilities. However, only 14 reported receiving trauma-informed training from any source; OPPAGA’s literature review found that such training is critical when interacting with families experiencing homelessness.
- Forty-six of 48 homeless liaisons responding to OPPAGA’s survey reported providing training for other staff—most often school front office staff and teachers—on how to identify students experiencing homelessness. However, less than half reported providing similar training to other individuals who regularly interact with students (e.g., bus drivers, counselors, school cafeteria workers, and social workers); research and interviews with school district homeless liaisons suggest that such staff is key to district efforts to identify and assist homeless students.
- OPPAGA’s analysis of Florida Department of Education data found that homeless students performed less well than their non-homeless counterparts on all academic measures examined, including absenteeism rates, statewide standardized assessments, retention at grade level, and high school dropout rates. Furthermore, unaccompanied homeless students had even poorer performance than the general homeless student population. These findings are consistent with national research.
- OPPAGA recommends that the Legislature consider requiring that school district homeless liaisons and other educational staff who work with homeless students receive training on trauma-informed care; school districts check student residency status at least once per school year; and school districts provide periodic training to all staff who interact with students on the school district’s obligation under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to identify and provide educational services to homeless students.
Major conclusions regarding foster youth attending postsecondary institutions are described below.
- Young adults currently or previously involved in the foster care system face a variety of challenges when entering adulthood. These young adults may have unresolved trauma, a lack of family support, and educational gaps. Studies have found that foster youth enroll in college at lower rates than their peers and those that do enroll are less likely to complete their first year.
- Campus support programs provide an array of services to help foster youth acclimate to and succeed in postsecondary institutions. All of Florida’s postsecondary institutions have at least one staff member designated as working specifically with foster youth students; however, the services and supports available to these students vary widely across institutions.
- The 23 campus liaisons responding to OPPAGA’s survey reported that they served as liaisons for an average of four years. Eighteen of the respondents reported spending less than half of their time serving students who are current or former foster youth, three reported spending approximately half their time, and two reported spending most of their time serving foster youth. Seven survey respondents reported not having enough time to effectively serve current students who are foster youth and do not feel that they have the information needed to serve these students.
- Thirteen survey respondents reported receiving training to perform their campus liaison duties from a variety of sources. However, only seven reported having received training in trauma-informed care and serving vulnerable populations.
- Survey respondents also reported that their institutions provide an array of services to foster youth students. The most commonly provided services were assistance with Department of Children and Families (DCF) tuition waivers, food assistance, and assistance with financial aid. Although the primary need among foster youth attending postsecondary institutions identified in OPPAGA’s interviews and focus groups is safe and affordable housing, most postsecondary institutions do not currently prioritize housing for foster youth students on their campuses.
- Of Florida College System students receiving DCF tuition waivers, 61% had at least a 2.0 GPA at the end of their first year; this percentage was slightly lower for students at institutions with campus support programs and the percentage was slightly higher for students at institutions without a campus support program. For the waiver population students in the State University System, 89% had at least a 2.0 GPA at the end of their first year; this percentage was slightly higher for students at institutions with a campus support program and slightly lower for students at institutions without a campus support program.
- OPPAGA recommends that DCF regularly generate a list of foster youth students who are newly eligible for the tuition waivers and create a system that Florida postsecondary institutions can use to verify students’ tuition waiver eligibility; the Legislature consider increasing the age at which students lose eligibility for the foster care-related tuition waivers and consider modifying statute to specify the training requirements for liaisons at postsecondary institutions; and postsecondary institutions prioritize housing for foster youth students on their campuses.
DCF, child welfare, college, public schools, university, BOG, K-12, liaison, postsecondary, waiver, DOE, school district, homeless, foster, adoption, youth, McKinney, Vento, SUS, campus, academic support, tuition, FCS, financial aid, Title I, Title IX