The Mission of A Child’s Place
A Child’s Place works to erase the impact of homelessness on children and their education.
How A Child’s Place Began
A Child’s Place began in 1989 when a group of women were walking through Settlers Cemetery in Uptown Charlotte and noticed children playing there during school hours. When asked why they were not in school, the children explained that they were not allowed to enroll in school without a permanent address. The women began a school for 27 homeless children in a room provided by First Presbyterian Church with a teacher from CMS and called it A Child’s Place. Soon after these beginnings, Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Act protecting the educational rights of homeless children. With McKinney-Vento, the mission of A Child’s Place shifted to supporting homeless children enrolled in public school. Since 1989, the agency has substantially expanded its service capacity. During the 2014-2015 school year, A Child’s Place helped 2,075 children experiencing homelessness.
How We Meet the Needs of Our Students
A Child’s Place supports children, families, our schools and the community by intervening at the point of crisis when a family loses their home. A Child’s Place serves as the EMT, there at the time of the emergency to help stabilize the child and family so they can begin to rebuild their lives. Our work is primarily done through a school-year model. A Child’s Place works in partnership with the public schools to identify, enroll and work with children and families who are in the homelessness crisis.
A Child’s Place school-year model provides a two-part strategy for students from kindergarten through 8th grade in specific partner CMS schools through two plans- one for the child during the school day and another to help direct the family toward greater stability.
The first part of this multi-level approach ensures that in spite of the child’s homelessness there is an A Child’s Place individualized student plan designed to keep the student in school, with healthy behavior and up to date on classroom learning and homework. For students whose homeless crisis is relatively brief, A Child’s Place provides food, school supplies, and other necessities so the student is prepared to actively participate in class. For students whose homeless crisis extends well into the school year, A Child’s Place also creates an individualized case plan. This plan addresses absenteeism and suspensions, behaviors often caused by the anxiety, anger and depression associated with children experiencing homelessness that keep them from achieving in the classroom. A Child’s Place tracks these outcomes through end of year results and evaluation of academics, attendance and behavior.
The second part of our approach focuses on the child’s family’s needs and opportunities. Through a case management approach, A Child’s Place identifies and makes referrals around employment, health issues, food, domestic violence, financial management and especially housing in order to end the homeless crisis. We track these changes by end of year evaluation of the percentage of our students reported moving from homelessness to stable housing.
We know that quality education, annual grade promotions and graduation from high school are important keys to the prevention of generational poverty and recurring homelessness. Getting children into the school building is the first critical step for A Child’s Place to serve their many needs and to ensure they stay engaged in instruction and learning. The 2015-2016 goal for A Child’s Place is to reduce the average days absent for our students by one day a year per student.
A Child’s Place uses data analyzed by UNCC’s Urban Institute and through UWCC’s Collective Impact to compile aggregate information about our students. Results from the 2014-2015 school year show:
- A Child’s Place serves the neediest students, those experiencing a homeless crisis. 100% of our students attend Title I schools and all of our families report incomes below the federal poverty level.
- A Child’s Place students experience improved school attendance. From 2013-2014 to 2014-2015, the average days absent for A Child’s Place students decreased from 14 to 11 days. This is a huge step forward for our students and we are determined to do even better.
- A Child’s Place students experience improved chronic absenteeism (a marker for future academic failure). During the 2014-2015 school year, only 19% of A Child’s Place students were chronically absent, down from 30% in the prior year. We are intentional about checking student attendance daily, rewarding improved and good attendance and engaging parent and family around the child’s attendance.
- 79% of A Child’s Place students did not receive any out of school suspensions for the 2014-2015 school year. A Child’s Place school-based teams teach our students healthy coping skills during their time of crisis and stress. By consistently engaging parents in school relationships, a meaningful dialogue around poor student behavior can occur resulting in decreased suspensions.
- Over 50% of A Child’s Place families report that they are in a stable home situation. A Child’s Place end of year family case assessments reflect that more than 41% of our clients no longer require housing subsidies and over 20% more are in stable house-sharing situations.
Removing Barriers to Childhood Education Created by 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 the instability they experience, these children are:
- Hungry twice as often as other children;
- Sick four times more often;
- Two to three grade levels behind and twice as likely to repeat a grade; and
- Experience emotional and behavioral problems three times more than their housed peers
- The national graduation rate for homeless children is below 25%.
(Source: National Center on Family Homelessness)
A Child’s Place works to remove these barriers. Our purpose is to enable client homeless children to have the same educational opportunities and advantages as other children.
Most of our client families are working poor, and virtually all of them live well below the poverty line. For them, homelessness is not a way of life, but a time in their lives. By minimizing the impact of this difficult time on the academic progress of children, A Child’s Place contributes to the likelihood that they will be promoted each year, graduate from high school and ultimately break the cycle of poverty.
Shall We Pay Now or Pay Later?
Stability and education are the keys to solving the homeless problem here in Charlotte. The relationship between education and income well-documented. Those with more education make more money. For every year a child progresses through school, the likelihood of being poor and homeless as an adult decreases.
We can pay now or pay later. It currently costs A Child’s Place $817 per year to serve a client homeless child. Compare that to the more than $60,000 per year it costs us for a child to be in our juvenile justice system or the nearly $40,000 per year it costs taxpayers to incarcerate or provide substance abuse treatment for an adult. or government. Helping homeless children now not only fulfills their hopes and dreams; it creates better citizens and employees for our community.
How Many Children Experiencing Homelessness Are There?
During the 2014-2015 school year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools reported a system-wide enrollment of over 4,000 identified students in a homeless crisis. That number is almost certainly too low, because it doesn’t include non-school-age children, nor does it account for students who are very good at keeping their homelessness from teachers and school administrators.
How A Child’s Place is Funded
A Child’s Place has been determined by the IRS to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is 98 percent privately funded. During the 2014-15 fiscal year, A Child’s Place received $2.2 million in charitable contributions from the following sources: individuals (32 percent), foundations (22 percent), corporations (19 percent), faith and civic organizations (15 percent) and United Way (12 percent). In addition, A Child’s Place depends on in-kind contributions of school supplies, school uniforms and other clothing, personal toiletry items and food for snacks throughout the year.