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Detailed Methodology & Glossary of Metrics

Each state was evaluated on metrics and recommendations listed in the Index. Out of a possible 100 points, over half (52%) of the points were distributed across the following 13 key metrics, which are indicative of states’ overall approaches toward youth homelessness:

  1. The state establishes the age of childhood as encompassing persons older than 18 (outside of a "homeless youth" definition, but includes youth in jurisdiction of child welfare or juvenile court).
  2. The state has a Runaway & Homeless Youth Act—or similar legislation—with corresponding funding.
  3. Youth experiencing homelessness have partial or full contract rights.
  4. Running away is declassified as a status or delinquent offense.
  5. The state allows shelters to take in homeless youth with a delay or waiver of notification requirements.
  6. The state explicitly allows partial and alternative school credit accrual for homeless youth.
  7. Unaccompanied youth under 18 can apply for health insurance coverage on their own.
  8. There is a state entity (office of homeless youth services, homeless youth state coordinator, commission on homeless youth, etc.) that focuses solely on youth homelessness.
  9. There is a current state plan to end homelessness.
  10. The current state plan to end homelessness includes a "youth" component with youth-specific strategies.
  11. The state maintains a self-governing youth action council—including significant representation of youth currently experiencing homelessness or who have experienced homelessness in the past—to inform youth homelessness policy within the state.
  12. The state requires training about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, healthy sexual, development or issues specific to LGBTQ+ youth for staff working in RHY Systems
  13. The state establishes protected class status based on one's sexual orientation and gender identity for runaway and homeless youth programs.

These recommendations are critical to effectively addressing youth homelessness on the state level. How states perform on each of these metrics is indicative on a broader scale of how their laws, policies, systems, and environments treat youth experiencing homelessness. The remaining metrics, grouped by law and policy, systems, and environment, were weighted equally. Detailed explanations of the metrics are included in the following sections. Additional metrics may be included in future iterations as states make progress on tackling youth homelessness, in order to better evaluate each state’s commitment to preventing and ending youth homelessness. 

To that end, some key metrics shifted in our 2019 report. Our 2018 report assigned a higher weighted value to these four metrics:

  • The state provides opportunities for CHINS to receive diversion services without court involvement. 
  • The state’s dispute resolution process has been amended to reflect ESSA’s changes to McKinney-Vento. 
  • There is a state interagency council on homelessness.
  • Conversion therapy for minors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression is banned. 

In 2019, these metrics are still important, but have been deprioritized in favor of four metrics we believe have a greater impact on state laws, systems, and environments for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness:

  • The state establishes the age of childhood as encompassing persons older than 18 (outside of a "homeless youth" definition, but includes youth in jurisdiction of child welfare or juvenile court). 
  • The state allows shelters to take in homeless youth with a delay or waiver of notification requirements. 
  • The state explicitly allows partial and alternative school credit accrual for homeless youth through regulations. 
  • The state establishes protected class status based on one's sexual orientation and gender identity for runaway and homeless youth programs. 

This shift in weighting, combined with changes to state laws and regulations over the past year, accounts for the greatest differences in state scores and rankings from the inaugural State Index report in 2018 to this year’s State Index report.

The Index does not examine state practices and how they implement laws and policies. Many states that have employed innovative models and approaches to address youth homelessness are not fully captured in the Index. The Index also does not address or measure the pace of advocacy efforts over time. Some states that may not have performed well in the Index but have ramped up efforts to address youth homelessness should not be discouraged. Even though these dynamics are outside the scope of the Index, states should continue to pursue these efforts.  

Additionally, there may be cases where a state has a specific policy in place, but does not earn points for it. Circumstances under which this may occur include (1) if the state follows a policy directive that is not codified in regulation or law, and therefore is not easily available to researchers and (2) if the state meets only part of a metric, e.g. sexual orientation included as a protected class in child welfare, but not gender identity. 

For more information on the policies below and the research methodology, see the 2018 State Index. 


Law & Policy

The Law and policy section looks at 5 key areas: (1) how the state recognizes the need for comprehensive supports and services for youth experiencing homelessness in state laws, policies, and regulations; (2) how the state addresses the educational needs of homeless youth; (3) how the state limits or prevents homeless youth’s contact with the criminal and juvenile legal systems; (4) whether the state provides homeless youth the option to be emancipated; and (5) how the state allows youth experiencing homelessness to access critical supports and services. Each of these areas and the specific metrics or criteria associated with them are shown in greater depth below. Laws, policies, and regulations surveyed for the Index are current as of September 2019.

1. The state has comprehensive state laws, policies, and regulations ensuring supports and services for youth experiencing homelessness. 

    • The state establishes a specific definition of the term “youth.”
    • The state defines the term “runaway.”
    • The state explicitly defines the terms “homeless child,” “homeless youth,” “homeless minor,” or “homeless student.”
    • The state establishes the age of childhood as encompassing persons older than 18 (outside of a "homeless youth" definition, but includes youth in jurisdiction of child welfare or juvenile court).
    • The state defines "sex" and/or "gender," which includes gender identity, within its RHYA State licensing agency regulations. 
    • The state has a state Runaway & Homeless Youth Act. 

2. The state addresses the educational needs of youth experiencing homelessness. 

    • The state’s dispute resolution process has been amended to reflect ESSA’s changes to McKinney-Vento. 
    • The state explicitly allows partial and alternative school credit accrual for homeless youth through statute or regulations. 
    • The state has laws or regulations that promote access to higher education for homeless youth. 

3. The state limits or prevents contact of youth experiencing homelessness with the criminal and juvenile legal systems. 

    • The state has a “Child in Need of Supervision” (CHINS) related statute. 
    • The state prohibits mingling of CHINS youth taken into custody with delinquent youth. 
    • The state provides opportunities for CHINS to receive diversion services without court involvement. 
    • The state does not explicitly authorize courts to force CHINS to pay fines and/or restitution. 
    • The state does not explicitly authorize courts to force CHINS to undergo drug screening. 
    • The state does not explicitly authorize courts to force CHINS to relinquish their driver's license or suspend driving privileges. 
    • The state allows unaccompanied homeless youth to request services independently under CHINS. 
    • The state does not consider runaway youth as delinquent or a status offender. 
    • The state does not explicitly allow police to take runaway youth into custody. 
    • The state does not explicitly allow runaway and homeless youth to be detained in secure facilities. 
    • Truant youth are not classified as status offenders or delinquents. 
    • The state does not have curfew laws. 
    • The state does not criminalize harboring a runaway youth or concealing a minor. 
    • The state does not criminalize interfering with custodial rights. 
    • The state allows shelters to take in homeless youth with a delay or waiver of notification requirements. 

  4. The state provides unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness the opportunity to seek legal independence and live independently. 

    • The state has an established process for emancipation. 
    • The state recognizes emancipation in limited circumstances. 
    • The state can waive or not require parental consent for emancipation. 
    • The state has no age restrictions for emancipation. 
    • The state gives minors broad contract rights OR allows them to enter into binding contracts for certain purposes (e.g. necessities). 

5. The state allows youth experiencing homelessness to access critical supports and services. 

    • The state explicitly allows unaccompanied youth under 18 to apply for health insurance coverage (without parental consent). 
    • The state allows unaccompanied youth to consent to mental health treatment (without parental consent). 
    • The state allows minors to consent to non-residential treatment for substance use (without parental consent). 
    • The state explicitly allows minors to consent to the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (without parental consent). 
    • The state allows minors, regardless of their legal status, to consent to examination and treatment relating to a sexual assault (without parental consent). 
    • The state has transition planning for children exiting the juvenile legal system. 
    • The transitional planning specifically addresses housing needs. 
    • The state addresses custody after discharge from the juvenile legal system. 
    • The state requires permanency planning for committed adjudicated youth. 
    • The state provides transportation home after discharge from the juvenile legal system. 
    • The state provides a subsidy for child care for eligible minors when employment or school is required under TANF. 
    • The state has exemptions from TANF’s family living and/or work/education requirements. 
    • State provides cash incentives for youth who graduate high school or earn a GED. 
    • TANF recipients are categorically eligible for SNAP. 
    • The state explicitly allows homeless youth to use SNAP to buy hot restaurant or prepared meals. 

Systems

Outside of the legal or regulatory actions that have a significant impact on youth homelessness, the Index also examines systems, evaluating features of an institution, organization, or system at the state level that influences state homeless youth, child welfare, juvenile justice, and education program implementation. 

    • There is a current state plan to end homelessness. 
    • The state plan has a “youth” component. 
    • The state plan has an “LGBT youth” component. 
    • There is a state entity (Office of homeless youth services, homeless youth state coordinator, commission on homeless youth, etc.) that focuses solely on youth homelessness. 
    • The state provides tuition waivers for foster youth. 
    • The State Department of Transportation has systems in place to address proof of residency requirements to receive a state-issued identification card. 
    • The state does NOT require parental consent for youth to obtain a state-issued identification card. 
    • There is a state interagency council on homelessness. 
    • A statewide housing needs assessment that identifies groups at greatest risk for homelessness has been implemented. 

Environment

Laws, policies, and the systems that operationalize and implement them also influence the environment for youth experiencing homelessness. The Index looks at several metrics that provide some measure of how supportive or hostile state environments are to youth experiencing homelessness, and more broadly, to LGBTQ youth receiving services. 

    • The state maintains a community advisory board for youth that informs youth homelessness policy. 
    • Ending youth homelessness is a goal at the executive branch (governor). 
    • The state requires training about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, healthy sexual, development or issues specific to LGBTQ+ youth for staff working in RHY Systems. 
    • The state has a public awareness campaign/common messaging for local awareness campaigns for youth homelessness. 
    • The state establishes protected class status based on one's sexual orientation and gender identity for runaway and homeless youth programs. 
    • The state establishes protected class status based on one's sexual orientation and gender identity for juvenile justice programs. 
    • The state establishes protected class status based on one's sexual orientation and gender identity for child welfare programs. 
    • Conversion therapy for minors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression is banned. 

In order to score 100, a state would have to earn points for all of the metrics listed above in the Policy & Law, Systems, and Environment categories. 

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