The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that provides federal funding for homeless shelter programs and stipulates protections for homeless children in the area of public education. The Network was recently asked how the law impacts a homeless youth’s access to school-based health services.
The McKinney-Vento Act dictates that local schools must ensure homeless youth are immediately enrolled and provided “services comparable to services offered to other students in the school.” Under the law, “homeless child” or “homeless youth” means a child or youth who lacks “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” and an “unaccompanied youth” is a youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. To be eligible for McKinney-Vento services, an unaccompanied youth’s living arrangement must meet the definition of “homeless”.
A minor’s status as a “homeless youth” under the McKinney-Vento Act has no bearing on whether or not he or she can receive health services without a parent or guardian’s consent. The Act only requires school activities and services that are available to students who are not homeless be comparable and accessible to homeless youth. The Network’s research determined that a homeless youth’s access to general or confidential school-based health services is dependent upon state law. If state law allows a minor to consent to certain confidential health services, then a homeless youth is entitled to those services. If a state’s law requires parental consent before providing general medical services to any minor, then parental consent must be obtained before a homeless youth can obtain those services —this poses a challenge for unaccompanied homeless youth in obtaining general medical services.
The Network identified two helpful resources – a guide to supporting the education of unaccompanied homeless students published by the National Center for Homeless Education, and a state-by-state review of laws affecting unaccompanied youth published by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.