The Westchester County Child and Youth Homelessness Dashboard (WCCHYD) is being published after months of data hunting and analysis by WCA so that demographic, geographic, and racial trends among children and youth experiencing homelessness in Westchester County are more visible. Since releasing our report entitled “Making the Invisible Visible” in 2018, we have realized that this group of vulnerable children are too often undercounted and the lack of accurate, easily accessible information has hindered the efforts of service providers and advocates alike. Now, important information about the overall number of homeless students is available for the entire county and its 40 school districts. The interactive platform also breaks down the larger group by age, race, special needs status, housing situation, and more to show snapshots and trends over time.
Much of the information contained in the WCCYHD Dashboard was not previously accessible beyond certain districts or not available to the public. Primary sources of homeless and population data include the NY State Education Department and the Westchester Continuum of Care Partnership to End Homelessness among others. Where breakdowns of the data by race were missing, WCA filed several Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) requests to the NY State Education Department, as previous research has shown a prevalence of certain racial groups that is disproportionate to income. We are proud to be part of the collaborative effort to make this information accessible to those who work directly to support children and families experiencing homelessness as well as community members who want to do their part to reduce homelessness in our county.
This dashboard is a great example of the power of collaboration among partners as it is a result of our collaboration with members of the WCA Child Homelessness Workgroup, the Westchester Continuum of Care Partnership to End Homelessness, and the Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS.) At first, we thought this project would just be for internal use, but then it expanded to something much more as we recognized the value of sharing the information with the public. WCA Director of Data, Finance, and Operations, Limarie Cabrera, coordinated the collaboration, methodology, analysis, and suppression of sensitive data to protect children in smaller groups or districts. Programs and Policy Manager, Josh Prywes, worked along with MSW Intern from NYU, Jasmine Drew for much of the data collection and FOIL requests.
Important questions can be answered by the WCCYHD dashboard such as:
- How many public school students are experiencing homelessness in a particular school district each year between 2014 and 2020?
- Are there any trends or disparities between children of different races in the types of housing or lengths of time that they remain homeless?
- Do the numbers shown on the dashboard match what would be expected given the socioeconomic trends and reports from those districts?
This last question is of particular interest to us in the WCA Child & Youth Homelessness Workgroup. Partners spent a considerable amount of time looking into the inconsistent ways that homelessness is assessed across school districts, which results in misleading data and trends that do not reflect what is really going on. We are concerned that the inability of any school district to accurately and consistently report the number and demographic makeup of students experiencing homelessness or their relative risk of housing instability may result in an undercount for that district and lack of appropriate financial assistance and social services provided. We hope the WCCYH Dashboard will provide information that can help such school districts and inspire investigation into best practices that can be implemented across the county so that children have access to sufficient resources.
We often say that data often raises more questions than provides answers. At the very least, if the dashboard encourages and provokes questions such as….
- Are we doing right by Westchester’s children? If not, how can we do better?
- Are we counting everybody who is in need of assistance when it comes to finding stable, adequate housing?
- What do we do about racial inequity that persists among those who experience homelessness and how can we break cycles that perpetuate this trauma?
… We will consider the dashboard a win.
Hard questions rarely come with immediate answers, but they are still worth searching for. Homeless children and youth in Westchester need us to keep pushing for answers to prevent further hardship that they must endure through no fault of their own.
Find out more by:
- Reading our issue page on Child & Youth Homelessness
- Subscribing to see how you can help
- Follow us @WCA4kids #WCAchildhomelessness
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