Unaccompanied homeless youth are youth who are not in the care of a parent or guardian and who lack safe, stable housing. Their numbers are growing and their needs go largely unmet.
The Homeless Youth Handbook
Youth experiencing homelessness must be able to access legal help and information to overcome the unique barriers they face. As a group that frequently lacks the traditional support systems of their housed peers, homeless youth must often confront difficult legal situations alone and with little guidance.
At Massachusetts Appleseed, we’re working to create a Homeless Youth Handbook – a know-your-rights, plain-language guide for youth experiencing homelessness. Partnering with the global law firm Baker & McKenzie LLP, several of our community partners, and homeless youth themselves, this will be a Massachusetts-specific resource that will help homeless youth navigate the complicated systems that govern their lives. It will cover a vast range of topics, from the right to education, resources for LGBTQ youth, interacting with police and immigration officials, and more, providing actionable steps youth experiencing homelessness can take to move forward.
The Homeless Youth Handbook will be designed for homeless youth, to arm them with information, empower them to fully access their legal rights, and take action. This project will expand access to justice to one of the most vulnerable populations in Massachusetts and we believe is a critical step to ending youth homelessness in the state.
Many other states, including Texas, Minnesota, New York, and, most recently, Washington D.C., have published similar resources. To view the Homeless Youth Handbooks already available, please visit www.homelessyouth.org.
Massachusetts Appleseed also advocates for state legislation to fund programs which provide a continuum of housing and support services for unaccompanied homeless youth. Appropriate housing and support services are critical because they serve as a platform from which unaccompanied homeless youth can stabilize and improve their education and health outcomes.
Massachusetts Appleseed co-wrote a policy brief entitled, “Unaccompanied, Unidentified and Uncounted: Developing Strategies to Meet the Needs of America’s Homeless Youth,” which examines their plight. The brief suggests recommendations meant to spur advocacy, further research and ultimately meaningful improvement to the lives of these children. The brief forms the basis of Massachusetts Appleseed’s youth homelessness policy agenda, much of which we have achieved through our work on the Special Commission on Unaccompanied Youth.
Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth
Massachusetts Appleseed is an active member of the Special Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth which was signed into law on July 8, 2012 as Outside Section 208 of the FY2013 Budget. The Special Commission identifies and addresses the many issues and barriers affecting unaccompanied homeless youth and recommends positive policy changes and appropriate interventions. The Special Commission is tasked with examining many of the issues raised in Massachusetts Appleseed’s policy brief, such as barriers related to mandated reporting requirements and the inability to count this mobile and invisible population of youth.
The Commission reported its preliminary findings and initial recommendations in June 2013. The Commission adopted a broad and inclusive definition of unaccompanied youth homelessness. On January 6, 2015, the definition was enacted into law. Click here to download the Commission’s initial report.
In response to an emerging homeless population among college students, Massachusetts Appleseed has partnered with the Office of Urban and Off-Campus Support Services (U-ACCESS) at the University of Massachusetts Boston to establish the “Massachusetts Homeless Post-Secondary Students Network”. The Network engages a cross section of diverse stakeholders, including colleges, high schools, state agencies, service providers, policy advocates, and community members, who all share a common purpose to support youth in access to public education. Together, these stakeholders work to identify systemic barriers, advocate for policy changes, and develop programs and best practices to facilitate meaningful access to higher education for youth at risk of homelessness, youth subject to chronic poverty, and youth experiencing homelessness.
The Network’s signature accomplishment to date is the establishment of Single Points of Contact (SPOC’s) at 16 colleges and universities in Massachusetts. SPOC’s assist homeless youth during matriculation and throughout their post-secondary career, helping them access a broad range of services both on and off campus. MA Appleseed continues to advocate for official SPOC policies at both institutional and state levels. Click here for the SPOC directory.
Education of Homeless Children and Youth
MA Appleseed is at the forefront of ensuring proper implementation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. McKinney-Vento is a federal law that entitles children who are homeless to a public education, regardless of where they reside. The law requires schools to remove any barriers to their enrollment, attendance, and success in school. MA Appleseed has worked successfully with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to address implementation issues, including educating parents and school system leaders about the federal law’s requirements. Through its role as a member of the Mass. Steering Committee on the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, MA Appleseed continues to monitor the issue.
Impact of Anti-Bullying Legislation
MA Appleseed’s attention to and expertise in this area is particularly important in light of Massachusetts’ recent anti-bullying legislation. While the new anti-bullying law is forward thinking in several important ways, it still leaves crucial concerns unaddressed and puts certain students at greater risk for punitive disciplinary action. We are at the forefront of ensuring that the Legislature, school districts, and other stakeholders know the potential pitfalls of implementing this new legislation in a highly charged political climate. Of primary concern is the potential shift of focus from bullying prevention and creating caring school communities to one of punishment and an increase in student suspensions and expulsions.
Code of Conduct Advisory Council, Boston Public Schools (BPS)
MA Appleseed, along with other community stakeholders and advocates, proposed important revisions to BPS’ Code of Conduct around its discipline provisions. In July 2010, the Boston School Committee adopted these revisions, signaling a long-hoped for shift away from a zero-tolerance attitude towards school discipline. At the same time, the School Committee created an advisory council to advise the Superintendent on the revised Code’s implementation, to review the Code annually for further improvements, and to suggest best practices to reduce BPS’s suspensions and expulsions. Comprised of parents, students, advocates, and community partners, the Advisory Council functions independently of and in cooperation with BPS. MA Appleseed’s participation allows us to advocate for a departure from zero tolerance altogether, for robust data collection, and for creating a community collaboration replicable in other school districts.
Behavioral Health and Public Schools Task Force
MA Appleseed proudly contributed and participated in the Behavioral Health and Public Schools Task Force. This task force was established under Section 19 of Chapter 321 of the Acts of 2008: An Act Relative to Children’s Mental Health. The task force created a framework that will serve as a guide for public schools to implement policies and protocols promoting school-wide behavioral health access and awareness in the hopes of reducing exclusions and keeping kids in class. Towards that end, the task force developed a behavioral health services self-assessment tool for public schools in order to gauge their capacity for implementing behavioral health protocols and policies. MA Appleseed successfully advocated to include questions assessing discipline issues and mitigation of zero tolerance policies. We also drafted a new section devoted to accurate and comprehensive collection of discipline data. Nearly all of our recommendations were included in the final draft, which you can read here.
Kinship Care Legislation
MA Appleseed was instrumental in initiating “An Act Relative to Caregiver Medical and Educational Consent” which was signed into law by Governor Patrick on January 14, 2009. The legislation allows parents to authorize a caregiver—for example, a relative or other person providing full-time care of a child—to consent to medical treatment and to educational decisions on behalf of the child. Many people in Massachusetts provide primary care for children who are not their own, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and adult siblings. In many of these arrangements, the caregivers do not have legal custody or guardianship. As a result, they often face barriers to obtaining educational and medical services for the children in their care. The Act does not divest parents of any rights, but gives caregivers concurrent authority with the parents. Read “Kinship Care Reform: A Proposal for Consent Legislation in Massachusetts” by Laura Weinrib (Project Coordinator for the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in 2001).
MA Appleseed studied how funds are distributed to the trial courts and what types of cases require more resources than others. In addition, MA Appleseed has worked with the Citizens Coalition for an Independent Judiciary to implement the recommendations of the Monan Commission, established by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to study the administrative changes needed to ensure that all Massachusetts residents have equal access to the courts. To date, the Coalition has supported legislation granting the SJC increased authority over the trial courts. Read Staffing the Massachusetts Trial Courts: Recommendations From The Massachusetts Appleseed Center For Law And Justice.
Hancock v. Commissioner of Education
Former MA Appleseed Executive Director Alan Jay Rom represented 19 families from school districts across Massachusetts who claimed the state was not meeting its duty to provide an education to all children, regardless of their relative wealth. While the Supreme Judicial Court ultimately ruled that the state had not breached this duty, the Court recognized that many districts were underfunded and underperforming as a consequence. The Court thus officially acknowledged the educational disparities in the Commonwealth.
Juvenile Court Mentoring Program
Together with the Suffolk County Juvenile Court, Mass Mentoring Partnership, and Massachusetts Big Brother Association, MA Appleseed recruited mentors from the legal world for children and youth in need of positive adult role models.
MA Appleseed teamed with the Volunteer Lawyers Project and the Boston Bar Association to create a program where lawyers could offer pro bono counseling to unrepresented debtors in bankruptcy proceedings. With this program, MA Appleseed sought to enable pro se debtors to make informed decisions about “reaffirmation,” which is a voluntary agreement by a debtor to pay off a creditor even though the debt could be dischargeable in a bankruptcy proceeding. The program was a great success and is now run by the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Immigrant Access to Financial Institutions
Many immigrants in the greater Boston metropolitan area depend upon money-lenders to cash their paychecks—usually for high fees—because they do not have bank accounts. As a result of a study which focused on the Brazilian, Haitian, and Dominican communities, MA Appleseed recommended changes in banking regulations that would make traditional financial institutions more accessible to the immigrant community.
Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
- Jessica L. Ellis and Samuel R. Gates Join Massachusetts Appleseed’s Board of Directors December 6, 2018
- Melanie L. Todman Appointed Co-Vice Chair of Massachusetts Appleseed’s Board of Directors October 15, 2018
- John A. Shutkin of CliftonLarsonAllenLLP Joins Massachusetts Appleseed Board September 28, 2018
- The Formal Session Ends: Let’s Break It Down August 6, 2018