Parson signs bill expanding services for youth experiencing homelessness

RDN REPORTS
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Youth experiencing homelessness will soon have new protections under the law, following a bill passed by the Missouri General Assembly during the 2021 legislative session. House Bill 432 contained more than twenty provisions to protect vulnerable persons.

The bill entitles unaccompanied youth 16 years old and older to obtain support services such as employment assistance, educational tutoring, housing assistance, transportation, life skills training and more, without fear of being reported as a victim of abuse and neglect strictly due to being a minor who is homeless.

Executive Director of FosterAdopt Connect’s Southwest Resource Center, “This legislation will allow us to serve a vulnerable population of youth who too often fall through the cracks.

“Without the fear of being reported, teenagers will be able to trust that they can enter our doors and get the critical services they need.”

The legislation clarifies that a 16-year-old minor who is unaccompanied or homeless is not in and of itself sufficient for reporting for child abuse and neglect for the purpose of providing support services. 

A mandated reporter still must report suspected abuse or neglect of the youth. 

Representative Patricia Pike R-Adrian and Sen. Lincoln Hough R-Springfield filed companion bills which were eventually included as one provision of the omnibus vulnerable person protection bill. 

Rep. Pike said, “As a high school counselor, I witnessed the needs of our at-risk and unaccompanied youth. Addressing barriers for homeless youth to receive services will result in improved personal well-being and will assist them with the skills to become self-sufficient, independent adults.”

The new law was developed by a multidisciplinary stakeholder group of child welfare professionals working to address issues related to youth who are unaccompanied or homeless in Missouri. 

The legislation builds on previous years’ legislation that allows homeless minors to seek mental health services, obtain a copy of their birth certificate, and also expand who can verify a youth as homeless.

“This continues Missouri’s work in advancing nationally recognized policies to reduce red tape for our homeless youth,” said Craig Stevenson, Director of Policy & Advocacy for Kids Win Missouri. “We are grateful for the legislature’s passion to ensure our at-risk youth can achieve independence.”

The provisions of House Bill 432, including the provisions protecting youth who are homeless, will officially become law on Aug. 28, 2021.