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Frequently Asked Questions: Unaccompanied Youth

Who are Unaccompanied Youth?

Unaccompanied youth are students who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian; this includes youth who have run away from home, have been kicked out of their homes, or have been abandoned by parents. These students are protected under the McKinney-Vento Act when the student also does not have a fixed, adequate and regular nighttime residence - click here for a definition of fixed, adequate and regular. 42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2). Without a parent or guardian to help, these students may not understand their school rights or know how to get help. School district McKinney-Vento Liaisons must make an extra effor to help connect unaccompanied youth with the support and services they may need. 42 U.S.C. § 11432(g)(6)(A)(iv).

Is there an age limit to being an Unaccompanied Youth?

No. There is no age limit for Unaccompanied Youth. Unaccompanied Youth are usually in their teens. In New York State, all students have the right to a free public education until they graduate, or until the school year when they turn twenty-one, whichever comes first. N.Y. Education Law § 3202(1).

Do unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness need their parents in order to enroll in school?

No. Unaccompanied youth can enroll in school by themselves, or with help from another adult. If another adult helps the youth, the school can't require guardianship papers. Missing papers can't delay or prevent enrollment of an unaccompanied youth. 42 U.S.C. §11432 (g)(3)(C); N.Y. Education Law § 3209(2)(f)((2)).

Who decides where an unaccompanied youth will attend school?

An unaccompanied youth and the school district's McKinney-Vento liaison can decide together where the youth will go to school. N.Y. Education Law § 3209(1)(b)& (2)(a).

Is a student considered an unaccompanied youth if they are receiving money or other support from their parents?

Sometimes. Getting money or other help from parents, by itself, does not change a student's housing status. A student can be an Unaccompanied Homeless Youth if the student does not live with their parent or legal guardian and their housing is not fixed, regular, and adequate.

If an unaccompanied youth has left home, but their parents will allow the student back home, could the student still qualify for protections under the McKinney-Vento Act?

Yes. Many students run away from home due to abuse or neglect, even though their parent or guardian says they can come home. Sometimes the youth may not be able to go home safely. Even though parents might allow the student to return home, if the student meets the definition of homeless under McKinney-Vento and is living temporarily in housing that is not fixed, regular, and adequate, the youth will still be protected under McKinney-Vento.

What is an "emancipated minor"?

For purposes of establishing residency under New York State Education Law § 3202, a student is considered "emancipated" if they are over the age of 16 and under 18, living separate and apart from her parents in a manner inconsistent with parental custody and control, not receiving financial support from her parents, and has no intent to return home. Students who are married or in the military are considered automatically emancipated. In New York State, there is no such thing as a court declaration of emancipation, and there is no legal paperwork needed to declare oneself an emancipated minor. Pregnant youth, however, are not automatically emancipated. Keep in mind that "emancipation" usually removes the parents'obligations to their children. This means an emancipated youth can't demand food, clothing, and shelter from their parents, and it may not help the youth. For these reasons, a young person does not have to be "emancipated" to have protection under McKinney-Vento.

Can all unaccompanied youth automatically get services under McKinney-Vento?

Unaccompanied youth are only eligible for protection under the McKinney-Vento Act if their housing is not fixed, regular, and adequate. For instance, a student who has lived in permanent housing with a grandparent since childhood, but apart from their legal parent or guardian would not be protected under the McKinney-Vento Act. 42 U.S.C. § 11434a(6). That said, the law encourages school districts to integrate their services for homeless youth into the general education setting. For example, a district could use sub-grant funds to create a tutoring program for at-risk students, and this program could include services for homeless students and permanently housed students together.

What does LGBTQ mean?

LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning. Thousands of LGBTQ youth are forced out onto the streets every year, and they are 40% of the total homeless youth population. For more information, please see Homeless LGBT Youth and LGBT Youth in Foster Care, available here.

Can an unaccompanied youth leave out her parents' financial information when filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for college?

Students in temporary housing do not always need to provide information about their parents' finances for college. If a student has been designated as an Unaccompanied Homeless Youth anytime during the school year, the student can apply for financial aid as an "independent student." Unaccompanied Homeless Youth are considered to be independent students for college financial aid under section 480 of the Higher Education Act of 1965. 20 U.S.C. § 1087vy(d)(1)(H). There are several people who can confirm this status for a student, including: a school district McKinney-Vento liaison, director of a Runaway Homeless Youth (RHY) program, or the director of a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded shelter or transitional program. Any of the individuals listed above can write a letter to the college financial aid administrator saying the student is an independent student. School district liaisons may also write follow-up letters of verification for an unaccompanied homeless youth in later years if they have the necessary information even if the student is no longer enrolled in the school district. 42 U.S.C. § 11431(g)(6)(A)(x)(III). For a copy of sample forms that RHY and school providers can use to help unaccompanied youth who want to go to college, please click here.

Does the McKinney-Vento Act cover students who want to enroll in GED programs?

Sometimes. If the GED program is being offered through the school district or BOCES, then the McKinney-Vento Act applies to the students in the program.

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