Education is a human right; all children in the United States have the right to an education. A landmark 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Plyler v. Doe, guaranteed that public schools would educate all students regardless of citizenship status, a vital right to remember on this International Day of Education. And yet, as discussed by Managing Director of KIND’s New York office Josie Cardoso-Rojo in an op-ed, unaccompanied children face many barriers to accessing education, including lack of financial resources and difficulty with language. Access to education is essential to unaccompanied children’s ability to integrate into their new communities and U.S. society, which is why it has been a focus of KIND’s work.
Across the United States, KIND’s social services teams help unaccompanied children access education in various ways. We assist clients, including older youth and students with disabilities, with school enrollment and educational assessment and services. Every year, KIND offices host back to school events to provide our clients with the school supplies they need.
Last year, KIND’s 2023 Equal Justice Fellow Erin Sweeney worked with K-12 school districts throughout New Jersey to help educators understand who unaccompanied children are, the common barriers they face when trying to access K-12 education and services, and the forms of legal immigration status they may be eligible for or may be pursuing. This is just one example of how KIND partners with school districts to support educators and schools as centers of community. We also provide trainings on topics such as best practices for working with unaccompanied children and connecting students and families to resources and services.
KIND’s policy and advocacy team advocates for inclusive and welcoming education policies that support unaccompanied children’s access to education and their overall well-being and integration into the community. For example, in 2023, KIND supported state legislation in California that provides additional support for newcomer students, commented on effects of the reauthorization of a bilingual education law on unaccompanied children in New Jersey, and supported a Massachusetts bill supporting access to and training for qualified school interpreters in educational settings.
KIND has also engaged in various forms of advocacy and provided feedback to the Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and local and state agencies, departments and boards of education, school districts, and educators on the education needs of unaccompanied children. Highlights include collaboration with partners in California on a national virtual convening of more than 250 educators, school district personnel, and staff of community-based organizations to share best practices for welcoming and supporting unaccompanied children.
KIND has also advocated for the creation of resources and guidance to provide information to children and families about educational rights and to address longstanding barriers in enrollment and accessibility. KIND is part of various local and national coalitions supporting immigrant children’s access to education, such as the National Newcomer Network and the Youth Education Law Collaborative in Washington state.
KIND is committed to helping our clients access education and will continue this critical work in 2024.