Cross-Systems Collaboration

Published: October 1, 2021

Cross-systems collaboration refers to partnerships between different systems. When education and housing systems work together, they can better serve students experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

Our systems currently operate in silos, which creates barriers for students and families to accessing sustainable support. Cross-systems partnerships rely on trust and take time to build, but they can widen a network of support for students experiencing homelessness. When these relationships are in place, they can help providers understand how other systems work, learn what resources are available, and provide layers of support to serve students more effectively and efficiently.

Housing crises rarely happen in isolation. To stabilize the lives of students experiencing homelessness, multiple resources and community connections are required. Partnerships across different systems, such as between schools and housing, can help to meet the varying needs of students and families experiencing homelessness. Oftentimes this includes housing support, but also encompasses day-to-day necessities such as food access, transportation services, job training, and educational advocacy.

(Note: Abbreviations following recommendations indicate sources for those recommendations. See the Sources Key below for details.)

Goal 1: All systems that work with students experiencing homelessness, such as education, child welfare, homeless services, health, and behavioral health, forge active partnerships with each other to provide wraparound support.

  1. Work in collaboration with your local Continuum of Care to activate partnerships with organizations serving students and families experiencing homelessness and housing instability. (PE)
    • Strategy 1: Fill a seat in your community’s Continuum of Care as a school district representative advocating for the student population. (PE)
  2. Community partners, housing and education agencies, school districts, and schools should share their expertise with each other to build collective knowledge about resources in their communities. (PE)
    • Strategy 1: Provide training for advocates for students experiencing homelessness in your local area. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness hosts an annual McKinney-Vento 101 training across the education and nonprofit sector. (PE)
  3. Plan and host student and family events in partnership with other agencies. (PE)
    • Strategy 1: Host back-to-school events or community supply drives in tandem with other student-serving organizations. (PE)
    • Strategy 2: Partner with local faith-based organizations on holiday gift drives or to fulfill student requests on an as-needed basis (e.g., cleats for football, instrument rentals, dance class registration fees). (PE)

Goal 2: Cases are reviewed across systems to better support students and families.

  1. Work with families to assess the level of support they desire and advocate on their behalf as they navigate across systems. (LE)
    • Strategy 1: Attend the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families family reunification meetings as an advocate and work in partnership with all parties involved. (PE)
    • Strategy 2: Join Individualized Education Plan meetings to ensure the voices of families are heard and respected throughout the planning and implementation of special education services for their children. (PE)
  2. Create agreements between partner organizations to protect students’ privacy and maintain confidentiality by only sharing information as needed.
    • Strategy 1: Connect with partner organizations to help fulfill the full complement of students’ needs. Community health workers in Educational Service District 105 work across multiple school districts to bring health-related support while addressing the other needs of students and families, such as housing. (PE)
    • Strategy 2: The Home from School program prioritizes low-income housing units for students and families experiencing homelessness through a partnership between the City of Seattle, the Seattle Housing Authority, and Seattle Public Schools. (PE, LE)

Goal 3: Homeless education liaisons, teachers, social workers, medical professionals, and early childhood education providers understand early warning signs of student homelessness so that they can help connect at-risk households to housing and services.

  1. Provide ongoing training on how to provide trauma-informed care and other supports, and how to identify McKinney-Vento eligible students across all youth-serving systems. (LE, PE)
  2. Homeless education liaisons should create opportunities for cross-systems collaboration through private-public partnerships.
    • Strategy 1: Reach out to local stores, food banks, and faith-based organizations to build awareness on students experiencing homelessness. By building awareness, private sectors can learn about ways they can support students experiencing homelessness through monetary support and by donating much-needed supplies for schools and basic needs. (PE)
    • Strategy 2: Create a way to support unaccompanied youth to meet their individualized needs. For example, a homeless liaison informed their local licensing agency about the challenges faced by an unaccompanied youth in obtaining a state identification card. After realizing the barriers unaccompanied youth faced, the liaison and the agency partnered together to brainstorm ways unaccompanied youth could obtain identification documents without parental presence. (PE)
  3. Share information between systems about the strengths and weaknesses of the current referral process. This can help systems identify and respond to pressing systems-wide problems, inform planning and evaluation of programs, measure systems impact, urge responsive policies and practices, and advocate for systems change.

Sources Key

AcronymCategorySources Include:
PEProfessional ExpertiseBuilding Changes staff; school and district staff interviewed through Schoolhouse Washington-funded projects and our Students of Color project
LELived ExpertiseInterviews with with parents, students (including those from our Students of Color project), and school staff in Washington State
MMMixed-methods ResearchBeating the Odds quantitative and qualitative analysis showing association between a practice and better-than-predicted outcomes

Contact Us

Do you have questions or feedback about these practices and recommendations? We’d like to hear from you. Please send us a message using the form below.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get the latest news from Building Changes.