A Child’s Place

 

Removing Barriers to Education Created by Homelessness

by Lisa Moore

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For thousands of students in Charlotte, the month of August represents back-to-school shopping. But for many of Mecklenburg County’s homeless children, the excitement of selecting the latest backpacks, markers and lunch boxes is not a reality.

Fortunately, one local organization is dedicated to erasing the impact of homelessness on children and their education. A Child’s Place, a collaborative effort between the local community and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, provides support services to enhance academic opportunities for homeless students and to provide services to families to ensure long-term stability and self-sufficiency.

“We engage our students in their education and our families in resolving the issues that led to the crises. We encourage our students to stay focused on their education. We empower our students and our families to see beyond their immediate crisis to a better future,” says Erika Harris, marketing and events coordinator.

A Child’s Place was founded in 1989 by a group of women who were walking through Settlers Cemetery in uptown Charlotte and saw children playing there during school hours. They asked the children why they were not in school, and the children explained that they couldn’t enroll in school because they didn’t have a permanent address.

The women began a school for 27 homeless children at First Presbyterian Church with a teacher from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and named it A Child’s Place. Soon after, the McKinney-Vento Act was passed, protecting the educational rights of homeless children. A Child’s Place mission then shifted to supporting homeless children enrolled in public school. During the 2014-2015 school year, A Child’s Place helped 2,075 homeless children.

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, children experiencing homelessness live in unstable conditions that include shelters, pay-by-the-week motels, doubled-up or tripled-up with others and in cars. Because of this instability, they are sick four times more often and hungry twice as often as other children. Homeless children may be two or three grade levels behind and are twice as likely to repeat a grade. They experience emotional and behavioral problems three times more than their housed peers. Sadly, the national graduation rate for homeless children is below 25 percent.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools estimates there are about 4,000 homeless children in the local school system. That number is considered low because it doesn’t include non-school-age children, nor does it account for students who keep their homelessness from teachers and school administrators. A Child’s Place connects with these children by referrals from partner schools and from their own observations.

“Once we see a need, we meet with and provide an assessment with the parent to provide vital referrals and fill immediate needs while also creating a plan for the student’s school experience,” states Harris.

She says A Child’s Place is determined to get homeless children into school where they are in a safe environment with two hot meals a day, clothing, snacks and school supplies and, most importantly, under the attention of educators and other caring adults. Services are provided by well-trained and compassionate teams of social workers and student advocates.

The staff may provide weekly check-ins to discuss situations or obstacles that could upset a student’s school life or emotional state. Daily/weekly snack bags are distributed to ensure children have something to eat when they leave school. Medical, dental and vision referrals are offered if needed. New clothing or uniforms may be provided and tutors and mentors are available upon request.

A Child’s Place also helps a student’s family to resolve issues that led to the immediate homeless crisis. Connected to 150 different community organizations, A Child’s Place partners with other nonprofits in the Children and Family Services Center, The Children’s Alliance, Homeless Support Services, the United Way and others to best serve children and their families

Dedicated to working with families throughout the school year, A Child’s Place helps them through all stages of a housing crisis, providing referrals to community resources for food, housing, job training and any other needs.

“Our goal is to stabilize a family so they can then partner with us in supporting their child’s education,” says Harris.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of A Child’s Place and are always needed to host fundraisers, organize resource rooms, prepare and deliver snack bags, assist in the office or act as lunch buddies or tutors.

A Child’s Place is 98 percent privately funded and relies on contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations, faith and civic organizations and United Way. At this time, there is urgent need for contributions of school supplies, school uniforms and other clothing, personal toiletry items and food for snacks throughout the year.

“There are children who are starting the new school year in a homeless crisis, without the basic needs of life or school supplies to be successful and achieve in the classroom,” says Harris. “A donation of volunteer time or in-kind donations will make the difference for our children.”

For more information or to help with needs for the coming school year, visit AChildsPlace.org.

 

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