Family Outreach and Communication

Published: April 27, 2021

Outreach and communication are crucial tools for supporting students and families experiencing homelessness. Therefore, outreach and communication in all forms must be culturally responsive and accessible. Support (whether school protocols or practices) must also be tailored to the needs of each student and their family.

School environments are not always welcoming or culturally responsive to students and families experiencing homelessness. Existing formats and communication methods (e.g., back-to-school nights, printed posters, forms, and emails) are not always accessible or meaningful for students and families experiencing homelessness.

Housing and education systems are already complex structures to navigate. Schools must work in partnership with students and families to ensure they receive relevant support services. When the needs of students and families are met, students can have the space to thrive academically.

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

Outreach and Communication

Goal 1: Students and families are knowledgeable about their rights under the McKinney-Vento Act and are aware of services available to them.

  1. Staff should give students and families a focused list of resources. For example, guidance for students and families living in doubled-up households can include a specific list of resources to help them obtain permanent housing. (PE, LE)
  2. Provide workshops in different languages and provide materials in accessible formats for students and families multiple times a year, including during weekends and evenings. (PE, LE, MM)
    • Strategy 1: Offer quarterly resource fairs where representatives from government and community-based organizations provide housing, legal aid, behavioral health, and other social services. Resource fairs can provide students and families with information on topics such as affordable housing, the rights of undocumented students and families, and the Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds.
  3. Increase outreach efforts by bringing information directly to McKinney-Vento eligible students and families at public events and community locations. (MM)
    • Strategy 1: Bring information directly to communities by using a vehicle dedicated solely to distributing resources to various locations throughout the school’s community.
  4. Make sure housing and McKinney-Vento related information can be easily accessed electronically and via hard copy. (PE, LE, MM)
    • Strategy 1: Post information on school and district websites, and email resources directly to students and their families.
    • Strategy 2: Post information about McKinney-Vento rights and services for students experiencing homelessness in schools and frequently visited public spaces (e.g., libraries, motels, campgrounds, and service provider locations).
    • Strategy 3: Informational materials should be up to date and inclusive. Information must be provided in different languages and accessible for students and families with disabilities. Materials should also be strategically placed in accessible locations to engage diverse populations.
  5. Home visits should only be conducted by staff trained on McKinney-Vento rights and used as an outreach tool to support students and families experiencing homelessness. Home visits should never create additional barriers for students and their families. (PE, LE)
    • During the COVID-19 pandemic…
      Shoreline School District and Shelton School District surveyed families to identify specific household needs.
      “We did a survey throughout the district and found that 15 families said they needed extra refrigeration for their household, so we supplied mini fridges [purchased with money from the COVID-19 Response Fund].” -Shoreline School District
      Separately, Building Changes surveyed 74 school district liaisons across 32 counties in Washington State to get a more comprehensive overview of the needs of students and families during the pandemic.

Goal 2: Students and families can easily communicate with their school staff or someone from a community-based organization to have their needs met promptly.

  1.  School staff and community-based organizations should partner with each other to reach out to even more students and families. When schools and organizations team up, they can more quickly identify and support more students in emergency situations. (PE)

Goal 3: Students and families have a safe and supportive community outside of school, even during pandemic-related school building and organization center closures.

    1. Create a sense of normalcy for students as much as possible by adapting to the needs of communities at the moment. (PE)
    • During the COVID-19 pandemic…
      Shoreline School District created and held an event where they collected and distributed Black hair care products for Black youth.
    • Strategy 1: Schools and community-based organizations should create programs to help lessen some of the learning loss that resulted from school closures.
    • Strategy 2: Visit families from a safe distance to show solidarity. A masked in-person air hug or high-fives can go a long way.
    • Strategy 3: Create virtual or “drive-and-go” resource centers for families in place of closed resource centers.
    • Strategy 4: Distribute packets of art activities and supplies for students and families to combat loneliness and depression.
  1. Create smaller, specialized support groups; for example, support groups for families whose students are in special education programs, or support groups for those recovering from alcohol and substance abuse. (PE)
    • During the COVID-19 pandemic…
      Since community facilities were closed last spring, Restore Assemble Produce (RAP) Youth in Kent connected virtually with households to ensure they were receiving support for those recovering from substance use disorders.

Communication Protocols

Goal 1: Students and families experiencing homelessness can communicate with school staff in a variety of ways.

  1. Create a communication protocol for students and families who may not have regular access to phones by scheduling regular in-person meetings at an accessible location of the family’s choosing.
  2. Ensure every student and their family have sufficient technology and internet connectivity. (PE)

Culturally Responsive and Welcoming Environment

Goal 1: Students and families experiencing homelessness feel welcome in all school buildings and districts.

  1. Hold community nights in schools to recognize and celebrate cultural groups representative of their student population. These types of events can also be great opportunities to promote homeless and housing support services and to educate students and families experiencing homelessness about their rights. (MM)
  2. Send families a welcome letter and invite them to visit their students’ classrooms and other support services in the building.

Goal 2: All staff are able to communicate with students and families experiencing homelessness in an effective, culturally responsive, and timely manner, with readily available translation services.

  1. Create opportunities for staff, students, families, or friends to become certified translators to bring additional language support to schools where translation services may be nonexistent or lacking. (LE)
  2. Make sure information is accessible for those who are deaf, blind, hard of hearing, or visually impaired. (LE)
  3. Partner with culturally specific organizations to lead or assist with community outreach. Some of the ways culturally specific organizations can help school staff is to teach them about effective outreach and engagement methods for specific communities. (PE, LE, MM)
  4. Work collaboratively and conduct cross-training with English language learner support staff and similar departments to coordinate and enhance outreach efforts. (MM)

Goal 3: A family engagement team is formed that can provide support and gain the trust of students and families experiencing homelessness. Family engagement team members should be knowledgeable in the language and culture of the community they serve and consist of members who reflect the community’s population.

  1. Provide case management for students and families experiencing homelessness. (PE, LE)
  2. Help students and families feel comfortable about approaching school leadership and speaking up on any issues they may encounter inside or outside of school. (PE, LE)

Sources Key

AcronymnCategorySources Include:
PE Professional Expertise Building 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
MM Mixed-methods ResearchBeating the Odds quantitative and qualitative analysis showing association between a practice and better-than-predicted outcomes

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