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December/January 2022Vol. 22, No. 11Issue Brief Proposes Policy Changes to Address Needs of Homeless and Foster Youth

An issue brief from Ithaka S+R, Homeless and Foster Youth, Racial Inequity, and Policy Shifts for Systemic Change, highlights the racial disparities inherent in foster care and homelessness and the causes of homelessness and foster system involvement. It illustrates the challenges that youth experiencing foster care and homelessness face in earning a college degree and proposes policy changes for states to address and meet the needs of these youth.

There is a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic youth experiencing homelessness or foster care. According to the issue brief, these disparities are largely the result of political, economic, and social inequities that negatively affect Black and Hispanic communities, such as segregation, mass incarceration, job discrimination, housing discrimination, and more. 

The challenges of experiencing homelessness and foster care can impact education. According to the brief, youth in care from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled, while youth experiencing homelessness often show high rates of absenteeism and disciplinary action. In postsecondary education, youth experiencing foster care or homelessness disproportionately face barriers to education access, support, and success. On top of these challenges, youth in racial and ethnic minority groups can be doubly disadvantaged due to biases in the education system.

To address these disparities, the brief proposes the following recommendations to state policymakers: 

  • Include academic and career counseling in state financial aid programs.
  • Expand foster youth postsecondary supports to include homeless youth.
  • Provide training for faculty, administrators, and state employees working with youth experiencing homelessness and foster care to combat implicit biases.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of financial aid policies targeted toward youth experiencing foster care and homelessness.
  • Collect better data on youth experiencing foster care and homelessness, including postsecondary enrollments and outcomes.