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Detailed Methodology & Glossary of Metrics

Each state was evaluated on certain key metrics and recommendations listed in the State Index on Youth Homelessness. Out of a possible 100 points, over half (52%) of the points were distributed evenly to evaluate whether the state has incorporated the following 13 recommendations in the Index:

  1. A state Runaway & Homeless Youth Act – or similar legislation – with corresponding funding
  2. Opportunities for youth in need of supervision to receive diversion services without court involvement
  3. Contract rights for homeless youth
  4. Declassify running away as a status or delinquent offense.
  5. Grievance process for students experiencing homelessness implemented that complies with federal law.
  6. Unaccompanied youth under 18 can apply for health insurance coverage on their own.
  7. A state entity (office of homeless youth services, homeless youth state coordinator, commission on homeless youth, etc.) that focuses solely on youth homelessness
  8. A current state plan to end homelessness
  9. A state plan that has a “youth” component
  10. A State Interagency Council on Homelessness that mirrors itself after the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, convening multiple federal agencies to determine strategies towards preventing and ending homelessness.
  11. A self-governing youth action council - including significant representation of youth currently experiencing homelessness or who have experienced homelessness in the past - to inform youth homelessness policy within the state.
  12. A public awareness campaign/common messaging for local awareness campaigns for youth homelessness.
  13. Banned conversion therapy for minors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

These recommendations are critical to effectively addressing youth homelessness on the state level. How states perform on each of these metrics is indicative on a broader scale of how their laws, policies, systems, and environments treat youth experiencing homelessness. The remaining metrics, grouped by law and policy, systems, and environment, were weighted equally. Detailed explanations of the metrics are included in the following sections. Additional metrics may be included as states make progress on tackling youth homelessness in order to better evaluate each state’s commitment towards preventing and ending youth homelessness.

The Index does not examine state practices and how they implement laws and policies. Many states that have employed innovative models and approaches to address youth homelessness are not fully captured in the Index. The Index also does not address or measure the pace of advocacy efforts over time. Some states that may not have performed well in the Index but have ramped up efforts to address youth homelessness should not be discouraged. Even though these dynamics are outside the scope of the Index, states should continue to pursue these efforts.

Law & Policy

The Law and policy section looks at 5 key areas: (1) how the state recognizes the need for comprehensive supports and services for youth experiencing homelessness in state laws, policies, and regulations; (2) how the state addresses the educational needs of homeless youth; (3) how the state limits or prevents homeless youth’s contact with the criminal and juvenile justice systems; (4) whether the state provides homeless youth the option to be emancipated; and (5) how the state allows youth experiencing homelessness to access critical supports and services. Each of these areas and the specific metrics or criteria associated with them are discussed in greater depth below. Laws, policies, and regulations surveyed for the Index are current as of September 2017.

  1. State has comprehensive state laws, policies, and regulations ensuring supports and services for youth experiencing homelessness  
    Laws that provide adequate funding and resources and comprehensive supports and services for youth experiencing homelessness are very much needed. The Index looks at which states have enacted a state Runaway Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) that allow such states to have an emergency response for its most vulnerable youth and to provide funding and support for a significant level of prevention, identification, or early intervention services (drop-in centers, street outreach, community programs, coordinated entry and assessment (emergency/crisis response, shelters, host homes, transitional housing) and tailored housing solutions (non-time limited affordable housing, short-term assistance, etc) specifically for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the Index also examines whether the state defines "sex" and/or "gender" that includes coverage of sexual orientation and gender identity within its RHYA State licensing agency regulations. Unless states provide definitions for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, such terms will always be left to interpretation.Definitions are critical components of statutes because they establish the meaning of key terms and interact with other statutory provisions to determine who is legally protected and who is eligible for supports and services. Some definitions set forth the parameters of the group of persons to be affected by the statutory provision. Three definitional issues were researched for this analysis: how the statutes define young people, whether the statutes include definitions of runaway and homeless children and youth, and up to what age young people are considered minors. The Index looks at how the state defines “youth,” “runaway,” “homeless child,” “homeless youth,” “homeless minor,” and “homeless student.” Other determinants that could also classify one as a child, such as mental disability, were not captured. For more information on the research methodology, please consult the “Definition of Terms Pertinent to Unaccompanied Youth” section of Alone Without a Home.
  2. State addresses the educational needs of youth experiencing homelessness
    The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (“ESSA”) recently amended and reauthorized the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (“McKinney-Vento”), strengthening the rights of homeless youth to access free, appropriate public education. This Index looks at some of these provisions to examine what states have done to provide additional protections for the right to educational continuity and stability of youth experiencing homelessness.Federal law requires that a dispute resolution process must be in place if a dispute arises over a student’s McKinney-Vento eligibility, school enrollment, or school placement. The Index looks at states’ dispute resolution procedures and whether these procedures reflect ESSA’s changes to McKinney-Vento. The Index did not look at whether states had a prior existing dispute resolution process before ESSA. Some of the changes include an explicit presumption that staying in the same school the student was attending before experiencing homelessness is in the best interest of the youth. The best interest must give priority to the youth’s request and must consider student-centered factors related to the impact of mobility on achievement, education, health, and safety of the youth. Students without stable housing who are transitioning from elementary to middle, or middle to high school sometimes face barriers in remaining enrolled in school with their peers. Changes under the new federal law clarified that youth experiencing homelessness are able to attend the same schools as their peers in feeder school systems. Most importantly, the law clarifies that students experiencing homelessness must remain enrolled in the school in which enrollment is sought pending resolution of all available appeals. The Index did not address the quality of the procedural safeguards under each state’s dispute resolution process.The law also minimizes the disruptive effects of homelessness on students’ education by allowing students experiencing homelessness to accrue credits to progress in school and receive credit for prior work done from a different school. The Index considers whether states explicitly allow partial and alternative school credit accrual for youth experiencing homelessness through regulations. Relatedly, recent changes under federal law recognize the need for youth experiencing homelessness to receive supports and services to pursue post-secondary education. The Index examines whether states have laws or regulations that promote access to higher education for youth experiencing homelessness.

    The Index only reviews what was publicly available under state statutes and regulations. Informal policies, procedures, and practices related to the McKinney-Vento dispute resolution process, credit accrual, and access to higher education, including those posted on state educational agency websites are beyond the scope of this survey. For additional information on access to education for homeless youth, please consult the “Rights of Unaccompanied Youth to Public Education” section of Alone Without a Home and No Barriers: A Legal Advocate’s Guide to Ensuring Compliance with the Education Program of the McKinney-Vento Act, available at https://www.nlchp.org/documents/NoBarriers.

  3. State limits or prevents contact of youth experiencing homelessness with the criminal and juvenile justice systems
    While there are several ways states can limit or prevent youth experiencing homelessness from coming into contact with the criminal and juvenile justice systems, the Index looks at three specific areas: (1) how state laws and regulations provide opportunities for youth experiencing homelessness to access diversionary supports and services and limit their court involvement; (2) status offenses; and (3) how those who help youth experiencing homelessness are criminalized. On diversionary supports and services, the Law Center and TCF looked at “Child in Need of Supervision” or “Child in Need of Services” (CHINS) state statutes. Many states and territories permit the juvenile or family court to become involved with young people or families who “need supervision,” but terminology and procedures vary widely. The Index looks at the circumstances in which youth experiencing homelessness are, and the consequences for being, labeled or identified as CHINS under various state laws. In particular, states were evaluated on whether the state prohibits mingling of CHINS youth taken into custody with delinquent youth, whether courts are authorized to force CHINS to pay fines or fees, undergo drug screening, and relinquish their driver’s license or suspend driving privileges. More importantly, this Index explores  whether the state provides opportunities for CHINS to receive diversion services without court involvement and whether unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness can request services independently under CHINS statutes. Research into the consequences of being characterized a CHINS was limited to the terms and limits of taking the young person into custody and what types of treatment and other consequences a court can order after labeling a youth as CHINS. Specific hearing procedures and other details are outside the scope of the Index. For more information on the research methodology, please consult the “Youth in Need of Supervision” section of Alone Without a Home.Another way to look at how states limit youth’s contact with the justice systems is to look at how many jurisdictions included running away from home as a status offense and the legal consequences of running away. Status offenses are behaviors or actions that are legally punishable only when performed by minors. Some of the penalties and sanctions associated with status offenses, such as fines, community service, or revocation of driving privileges are counterproductive and can lead to youth missing school and lose employment, making it harder for them to escape the intergenerational cycle of homelessness and poverty. The Index surveys runaway youth, truancy, and curfew statutes. Specifically, the Index looks at which states do not consider running away as a status offense, which states do not consider runaway youth as delinquent, which states do not explicitly allow police to take runaway youth into custody, and which states do not allow runaway and youth experiencing homelessness to be detained in secure facilities (without a valid court order). It is important to note that there are justifications, other than being a suspected runaway, for law enforcement to be able to take a runaway youth into custody. Contact with law enforcement, while helpful to remove youth experiencing homelessness from dangerous situations, can cause suspicion and hostility between young people and law enforcement and can discourage youth from seeking out available services. The Index also looks at whether a state classifies truancy as a status offense and whether truants are classified as delinquents. While truancy statutes are designed to ensure youth attend school, they can also be harmful to those who are unable to get to school on time because they don’t have access to safe, adequate, and appropriate transportation. Finally, the Index examines whether states have curfew laws, which can encourage local governments to enact one and end up criminalizing youth who have nowhere else to go but the streets. For more information on the research methodology and limitations, please consult the “Status Offenses” section of Alone Without a Home.

    Finally, the Index examines how criminalization extends to those who attempt to help homeless youth. Some states have enacted statutes that either explicitly or implicitly prohibit “harboring” of runaway youth by individuals and organizations not holding legal custody of the young person. While enacted to protect the rights of families to raise their children and protect children from abuse, these statutes may pose a risk to those individuals and organizations that have a legitimate purpose in providing safe havens for young people currently away from their guardian. For more information on the research methodology and limitations, please consult the “Harboring Unaccompanied Youth” section of Alone Without a Home.

  4. State provides unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness the option to be emancipated
    Generally, contracts entered into by minors are not legally binding, which allows them to break a contract without legal consequences. But this protection, while beneficial, may also make companies and certain parties unwilling to enter into a contract with minor youth. Potentially minors that cannot be reunited with family, unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness may be unable to legally obtain housing, buy essential goods, engage in other transactions necessary to live independently, or make their own decisions about medical care, education, and other personal matters. Emancipation allows a young person to become a legal adult while he or she is still under the legal age of majority, allowing them to overcome these barriers. Some unaccompanied youth are financially able to rent apartments, buy cars, or enter into other contracts such as legal services, but prevented from doing so by lack of legal authority. The Index looked at whether the states permit youth to be emancipated and under what circumstances, what barriers youth may encounter in seeking emancipation such as parental consent or age restriction, and whether the states give minors contract rights or allow them to enter into binding contracts for certain purposes such as obtaining necessities.  Minors in some jurisdictions may also be permitted to enter into binding contracts by court cases, policies, or practices not reflected in the statutes, which is beyond the scope of the Index. For more information on the research methodology and limitations, please consult the “Emancipation” section of Alone Without a Home.
  5. State allows youth experiencing homelessness to access critical supports and services
    Youth experiencing homelessness face numerous barriers to accessing critical supports and services across the country. Many of these barriers are caused by underidentification of youth experiencing homelessness, lack of funding and resources to meet multidimensional needs, and laws and policies that either prevent or discourage youth from seeking much needed help. The Index looks at several key areas, including access to healthcare, youth released from the juvenile justice system, and access to federal benefits.The challenges of living on the streets or in inadequate housing make unaccompanied youth are particularly vulnerable to health care problems. Unaccompanied youth should have a basic right to health care and be empowered to proactively seek care, rather than fearing the financial consequences and putting off seeking care until medical issues progress. Unaccompanied youth face hurdles in accessing healthcare due to both financial, consent, and confidentiality barriers. The Index only looks at certain laws dealing with a minor’s ability to consent, although it is equally, if not more, important to recognize that homeless youth may not have the necessary financial resources to access and pay for health care or they may not know their rights to maintain the confidentiality of their medical records and the mandates or discretion given to physicians to notify their parents or legal guardians. For more information about these issues, including access to Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program for youth experiencing homelessness, please consult the “Health Care Access for Unaccompanied Youth” in Alone Without a Home. The Index examines the difficulty associated with providing legally authorized consent for their own health care when they are unwilling or unable to secure that consent from their parents or legal guardians. The Index looks at whether states explicitly allow unaccompanied youth under 18 to apply for health insurance coverage (without parental consent), and whether states allow unaccompanied youth to consent to mental health treatment, non-residential treatment for substance use, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and examination and treatment relating to a sexual assault. Generally, the consent of a parent is required for health care that is provided to a minor child. However, every state has numerous laws that allow minors to give their own consent for care in specific circumstances. These laws are based either on the status of the minor (emancipated minors, minors living apart from their parents, married minors, minors in the armed services, pregnant minors, minor parents, high school graduates, or minors over a certain age) or on the services sought by the minor (general medical care, emergency care, family planning or contraceptive services, pregnancy related care, sexually transmitted infection care, HIV/AIDS care, care for reportable infectious diseases, care for sexual assault, drug or alcohol care, and outpatient mental health services). Often, however, young people themselves, their health care providers, and the sites where they seek care are not aware of the different ways in which laws may allow these youth to give their own consent for care. For more information on the research methodology and limitations, please consult the “Health Care Access for Unaccompanied Youth” section of Alone Without a Home.In addition to presenting at how states ensure contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems are limited or prevented for youth experiencing homelessness, the Index also looks at what states are doing to prevent youth released from the juvenile justice system from being released either directly into homelessness or to a placement from which they can easily become displaced. In particular, the Index looks at whether each state has transition planning for children exiting the juvenile justice system, whether the transitional planning specifically addressed housing needs, whether each state addresses custody after discharge from the juvenile justice system, whether each state requires permanency planning for committed adjudicated youth, and whether each state provides transportation home after discharge from the juvenile justice system. Discharge-planning and aftercare procedures that are not codified in state statutes were not examined and are beyond the scope of the Index. Related issues, such as the release of youths from mental health systems or welfare systems, as well as laws related to aging out of juvenile justice systems or other care systems, are also beyond the scope of the Index. For more information on the research methodology and limitations, please consult the “Discharge from the Juvenile Justice System” section of Alone Without a Home.

    Critical to ensuring youth experiencing homelessness have access to supports and services is to look at how states implement federal programs like the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). TANF provides assistance and work opportunities to needy children and families by granting states the federal funds to develop and implement their own welfare programs. The program is designed to help move recipients into work and turn welfare into a program of temporary assistance. Like TANF, SNAP provides nutrition assistance to eligible low-income individuals and families through state agencies and resources. Homeless youth are eligible to apply for TANF and SNAP benefits, providing them with necessary support to meet their survival needs. The federal government provides states a lot of flexibility in regulating these federal programs and so implementation vary across states. For the TANF program, the Index evaluates states depending on whether the state subsidized childcare for eligible minors when employment or school is required under TANF, the state has exemptions from TANF’s family living and/or work/education requirements, the state provides cash incentives for youth who graduate high school or earn a GED, and whether TANF recipients are categorically eligible for SNAP. With SNAP, the Index’s evaluation focuses on whether the state has guidance or resources specifically for homeless youth using SNAP. The Index also looks at whether the state explicitly allows youth experiencing homelessness to use SNAP to buy hot restaurant or prepared meals since youth may not have regular access to a kitchen to prepare and cook meals. The Index does not evaluate states but examines nonetheless whether states allow youth to concurrently apply for both SNAP and TANF, to concurrently apply for SNAP and Medicaid, and whether states have exemptions from SNAP’s work and/or employment requirements. For more information on the research methodology and limitations, including additional information on SNAP and TANF, please consult the “Federal Benefits” section of Alone Without a Home.

Systems

Outside of the legal or regulatory actions that have a significant impact on youth homelessness, the Index also examines systems, evaluating features of an institution, organization, or system at the state level that influences state homeless youth, child welfare, juvenile justice, and education program implementation. In order to implement comprehensive state laws and policies, states should have official plans to prevent and end youth homelessness. The Index looks at whether such plans includes treatment, outreach, and emergency strategies to address homelessness among the broader youth community and among LGBTQ youth, specifically. As both populations are disproportionately impacted by experiences of homelessness, any statewide plan to address homelessness should include extensive strategies that are aligned with USICH’s criteria and benchmarks for achieving the goal of ending youth homelessness.

Additionally, the Index evaluates whether or not there is a state entity - an Office of homeless youth services, homeless youth state coordinator, Commission on homeless youth, etc.) - that focuses solely on youth homelessness. By creating such an entity, states are implementing key systems that provides data, coordination, support services, and infrastructure around homeless youth. Without such an entity, the state lacks a formal response to youth homelessness and misses opportunities to collect key data regarding youth who are experiencing homelessness. In choosing this metric as part of the index, we knew that most states did not maintain such an entity. However, some metrics found within the Index are designed to promote innovation as it pertains to strategies towards preventing and ending youth homelessness, and it is our hope that states will positively receive the recommendations around implementing an Office of Homeless youth services or other state entity and see this as an opportunity for growth.

The Index examines whether each state has established an interagency council on homelessness that coordinates the state’s efforts towards preventing and ending homelessness. At the federal level, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) has catalyzed the federal response to tackling homelessness, working in close partnership with Cabinet Secretaries and other senior leaders across our 19 federal member agencies. It is the glue that holds together the U.S. response to homelessness. Ongoing efforts have yielded positive results - homelessness among veterans has been reduced by 46%, including a 50% decrease in the number of veterans living unsheltered; chronic homelessness has been reduced by 27%; and family homelessness has been reduced by 23%, including a 65% drop in unsheltered homelessness among families. States can learn from the successes of USICH and utilize the agency as a guide for establishing a state interagency council on homelessness.

The Index also evaluates whether the state maintains systems which makes obtaining a state-issued identification card easy. The importance of obtaining a state ID cannot be underestimated as an ID is often necessary to gain access to key supportive, housing, and health-related services. For LGBTQ youth that have been displaced due to lack of support or unsafe family environments, many are left unable to access key medical and/or social safety net services. Having a state-issued identification card means young people can identify themselves when attempting to access services, making it easier for them to receive the assistance they need. Because we know that youth who have experienced homelessness are often estranged from their families or have families that are unavailable due to struggling with poverty, incarceration, multiple jobs, caring for other relatives, requiring parental consent to receive a state ID can serve as a barrier towards ending an experience of homelessness. As such, the Index evaluates whether or not the state requires parental consent for youth under the age of 18 to obtain an ID. Additionally, under the REAL ID Act, most states require proof of residency to obtain a state ID. This often includes having to supply a permanent address or providing a utility bill in one’s name to the address listed. For youth experiencing homelessness, these proof of residency requirements provide another barrier to gaining access to an ID. As such, the Index looks at whether the state transportation department has the framework needed to address proof of residency requirements. This can include allowing applicants to list a park, corner, or bridge in lieu of a street address; accepting letters of documentation from a range of service providers; or permitting someone with whom a young person lives to complete an affidavit. Some states allow for a descriptive address and may use a letter from hospitals, homeless shelters, halfway houses, or transitional service providers as proof of residency.

To ensure that youth homelessness is a brief and rare occurrence and that youth have the tools necessary to be self-sufficient, completion of educational and vocational training activities can be particularly important. The foster care system is a well-known pipeline for youth homelessness and how states address the education of those in foster care is indicative of their commitment to more broadly prevent and end youth homelessness. Access to higher education often seem out of reach not just for youth who have or are currently experiencing homelessness but also to those who are in the foster care system. The Index looks at whether the state provides tuition waivers for foster youth. Currently, youth with foster care experience seeking higher education are at a disadvantage, with around 60 percent of the general population will obtain a bachelor’s degree, compared with only 3 percent of foster care alumni. The importance of state-based tuition assistance programs for foster youth cannot be understated, and states should do more to ensure that those exiting the foster care system have the supports they need to succeed.

Environment

Laws, policies, and the systems that operationalize and implement them also influence the environment for youth experiencing homelessness. The Index looks at several metrics that provide some measure of how supportive or hostile state environments are to youth experiencing homelessness. One of the most heinous examples of states creating environments that can lead to stigma is the use of conversion therapy for minors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We know that there is no scientific evidence that conversion therapy works and that it can be particularly harmful to LGBTQ individuals. Additionally, the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American College of Physicians, American Counseling Association, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, American School Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, and World Psychiatric Association do not support conversion therapy as a therapeutic intervention. Therefore, the Index looks at whether or not states ban conversion therapy for minors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity because states should not allow such a harmful and ineffective practice to persist.

Over the past 30 years there has been a shift in how the American public views homelessness, with more compassion, government, support, and liberal attitudes about homelessness being adopted over the years. Less is known about public perceptions about youth experiencing homelessness. However, greater support for homeless individuals could mean an opportunity for new strategies towards sounding the alarm of youth homelessness. Many states have instituted public awareness campaigns around public health issues (smoking, obesity, HIV, viral hepatitis). Because homelessness is a determinant to many other disparities, implementing a campaign that raises awareness of youth homelessness within states could be an opportunity to increase public knowledge of the issue, lessen the stigma of youth experiencing homelessness, and spark a dialogue concerning youth homelessness.experiencing homelessness. As such, the Index looks at whether states have instituted public awareness campaigns regarding youth homelessness.

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