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Barriers and Challenges Facing Unaccompanied Youth

Many school liaisons and other educational leaders across New York State may be grappling with the issue of identifying unaccompanied youth as such. The first problem is knowing what to look for and ask for from other staff and from the students themselves in an appropriate manner. Often unaccompanied youth will not share their status due to fears of “getting in trouble” from the school itself. Per the regulations and provisions of McKinney-Vento, it is not the school’s responsibility to judge or make a determination “regarding the validity of why a student is not living with a parent or guardian. Rather, determinations of McKinney-Vento eligibility are to be based solely on the definitions of unaccompanied and homeless included in the Act. A student’s eligibility should be evaluated based on the nature of his or her current nighttime living arrangement, not the circumstances that caused him or her to leave home.” (see

How do I know if a student in my school, or trying to register is considered an “unaccompanied youth?”

According to the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE), the Federal Definition of a student who is considered unaccompanied is:

  • The child’s or youth’s living arrangement meets the Act’s definition of homeless,

  • The child or youth is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian

For the purposes of this blog, students that are identified as unaccompanied are identified as such based on this federal definition- students must be considered homeless AND unaccompanied. Please note that in different states there is an age restriction to be considered unaccompanied. To see where your state lands, see this site. For more information on homelessness for local and state McKinney Vento coordinators, please look here.

What are the barriers and challenges that unaccompanied youth face in schools?

The first and most important issue when understanding the challenges that unaccompanied youth face is fear. Imagine caring for yourself or other younger siblings without the care of an adult- how do you balance school, possibly work, and the management of those siblings? What happens if the schools they are in find out and report you to the authorities? What happens then? This can be one of the many barriers a liaison may face when identifying students because they are just afraid of being found out and reported. Additionally, for the student, access to basic needs- clean clothes, showers, food, and other resources will be an issue. If the child gets sick, where do they go for help? Without the right paperwork- which can also include identifying documents like state ID’s, birth certificates, any kind of insurance information, all of these items may prevent a student from seeking help, even when they really need it.

There are many more challenges for students that are considered homeless and unaccompanied. If you would like more information on identifying unaccompanied youth in New York, please see this link. For resources in other states, please see this link.

This month at NYSTEACHS:

  • Get to know our new website:

  • Our upcoming Webinar on Unaccompanied Youth will be held on January 20, 2022. You can register right here!

  • We will also be hosting a special webinar series on Trauma Informed Practices, the dates will be announced shortly!

Next week on the blog: Provisions of McKinney-Vento for assisting Unaccompanied Youth

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