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Resources & Support for Students with Challenges at Home

Challenges outside the classroom including divorce, poverty, and violence can impact a student’s performances inside the classroom. Learn how to spot which students might be struggling and how they can find support.

Stressed female student looking at a computer in her home.

Regardless of age or education level, students often experience struggles outside the classroom that impact behavior and academic performance in significant ways. These include domestic violence, homelessness, and lack of technology among other challenges. Recent research in Michigan, for example, found that maltreatment and other factors consistently lower academic outcomes. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only made these concerns more noticeable, leading to spikes in domestic concerns and presenting new challenges in education.

Addressing these challenges is imperative but not always easy. This guide helps with that by detailing some of the most common challenges at home and discussing their effects on K-12 and college students. For each issue listed we provide resources that can help students and their families overcome it.

Challenge: Divorce of Parents or Caregivers

With nearly half of marriages ending in divorce, many students likely witness these challenges in their peers or experience them firsthand. Studies have consistently shown that divorce lowers educational attainment levels, leaving students more likely to be held back and less likely to earn a college degree.

The challenges present themselves in a variety of ways and often stem from unstable environments. Younger children who spend several days a week in a different home may have difficulty concentrating or completing homework, showing signs of distress or separation anxiety. Older students may express anger, at times taking on the emotional demands of their parent or caregivers. Teenagers and college-age students may display increased aggression, negativity, and apathy.

Solutions and Support: K-12

Teachers are one of the most effective resources for support. They work on the front lines and because they spend so much time with students they’re often in a good position to identify when issues first arise. Most school counselors also receive training designed to address these challenges and some may even have additional expertise in this area.

Whether you’re a teacher, student, or caregiver, one of the most important things you can do is keep the lines of communication open. Separate homes and different contact information for each parent makes it easy to misplace report cards or progress reports. Teachers and families will need to work together to develop a plan puts the child’s needs first.

Solution and Support: College

College students are not exempt from the effects of divorce or separation. Making the move to college life is a significant transition itself and it can often cause past issues to resurface or make present circumstances more difficult to manage.

Virtually every college or university extends a counseling or wellness center for to students. These are crucial resources that can help you navigate significant challenges. Some schools may offer specialized counseling services for family issues like divorce. Peer and classmate support can also be a great tool. Many schools provide structured support groups related to divorce, but you can also seek alternatives or start your own.


Challenge: Violence in the Home

Researchers estimate that over 15 million children in the U.S. live in homes where domestic violence has occurred at least once in the past year. Seven million live in homes where severe violence has occurred. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be contributing to these trends, with many students and families forced to stay at home.

Domestic violence makes a significant impact on children and can lead to long-term physical and mental health issues. Younger students may struggle with feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, and lack of motivation in completing classroom work. Students in middle school or high school are likely to engaging in risky behaviors, pick fights, and simply skip school.

Solutions and Support: K-12

Challenges in this area often have a ripple effect, contributing to lower performance in the entire classroom not just the individual student. Teachers and counselors play an important role in mitigating these effects and the positive, learner-centered space they create may be the safest environment some students experience.

Mandatory reporters (like teachers) are often the best and most immediate people to help with this, but they are not the only resources out there. Most state departments of education and family services keep listings of local resources and many implement initiatives designed to address domestic violence. You can use tools offered by the Department of Justice and the National Child Abuse Hotline to find resource specific to your region.

Solution and Support: College

College students often deal with past trauma related to domestic violence, current experiences of violence at home or on campus, or both. Prompted by increased awareness of Title IX provisions, many schools have begun to develop programs dedicated to combating these forms of violence by offering student support.

In addition to standard counseling services, some schools provide students with guides and resource listings while others extend white papers and awareness initiatives. Organizations like Futures Without Violence aggregate a listing of great support tools by location. It is not exhaustive by any means, but a great place to start your search.


Challenge: Substance Abuse and Addiction in the Home

Addiction and substance abuse can negatively affect anyone, but children and youth are especially susceptible. The current opioid epidemic has only made this situation worse. The CDC observes that 128 people die every day from opioid overdoes alone while 15% of high school students report using or misusing those substances.

Because students’ brains have not fully matured, the effects of substance abuse can be especially significant, contributing to impaired cognitive development. The effects include memory loss, concentration difficulties, and inability to process information, all of which impact academic performance. Likewise, substance abuse by family members or caregivers can contribute to an unsafe, unstable learning environment.

Solutions and Support: K-12

Proper treatment and care are the best solutions for substance abuse in any context. K-12 students can (and should) report issues to teachers and counselors who can advocate for them and aid in seeking help. They may not be drug counselors themselves, but these professionals often have additional training that can help.

Some school systems will be programs or initiatives design to address substance abuse. The departments of education in Texas and New York, for example, offer concrete action steps and enlist a staff of drug prevention specialists who provide services to affected students.

Solution and Support: College

A recent peer-reviewed study found that 42% of college students misused drugs or medication. Substance abuse can lead to lingering cognitive deficits that contribute to interrupted sleep, missed class, and reduced academic performance.

The college experience can be isolating for some and substance abuse can make it even more difficult to find your footing. Peer support can go a long way in addressing these issues. Many colleges and universities offer these opportunities, but students can also form their own based on existing social relationships. In addition, most schools offer recovery services, substance abuse treatment programs, and searchable tools to find extra help.


  • American Addiction Centers – This site serves to connect those suffering from substance abuse with proper treatment.
  • Campus Drug Prevention – Sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, this resource focuses on substance abuse prevention on college campuses.
  • Partnership to End Addiction – This nonprofit connects individuals and groups with family and community-centered treatment services.
  • Shatter Proof – Driven by scientific best practices, this national organization advocates for those in recovery and connects people with transformative treatment.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – SAMHSA extends a treatment center locator, a program database, and gathers recent data on substance abuse.

Challenge: Lack of Internet or Other Technologies

Access to the internet and other connective technologies are crucial to any learning experience, leading some to consider these resources public utilities like water or electricity. Most schools and teachers regularly use these technologies them to communicate with students and deliver content. This has only increased due to COVID-19.

Lack of internet and other technologies at home can cause students to fall behind in their studies. UNICEF reports that low-income students and those in rural areas suffer the most from this digital gap. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), these barriers hinder students’ ability to fully participate and engage in their education.

Solutions and Support: K-12

Due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, many K-12 schools have begun to rethink internet access and expand connectivity efforts. Some implement internet access programs at no cost to qualifying students or family members. Service providers like Comcast and AT&T also extend incentives and discounts for eligible households without internet access.

Some state and local governments also provide resources, including internet access initiatives and programs that provide computers and inexpensive wi-fi hotspots to those in need. In states like Texas, education officials have compiled guidelines for school districts designed to increase connectivity and access to technology.

Solution and Support: College

Virtually every college these days extends nearly ubiquitous on-campus wi-fi to all students. Students attending school remotely can also use the resources listed above and detailed below to increase their connectivity at home.

Most schools also have updated computer labs and libraries with integrated technologies for students who do not own devices. Your tuition expenses and technology fees fund these efforts and provide you with complete access. Some schools may also have their own technology stores where students can purchase devices at a discounted rate. Big-box stores like Best Buy extend similar opportunities.


  • Connected Nation – With a focus on rural families, this organization strives to provide every student with internet access through advocacy and state-based initiatives.
  • Digital Bridge K-12 – This initiative works with local school district to expand reliable internet access to K-12 students across the country.
  • Everyone On – Founded in 2012, this nonprofit aims to bridge the digital divide by providing affordable computer and low-cost internet to students.
  • Office of Educational Technology – A U.S. Department of Education entity, this office provides educational technology resources to school districts and the students they serve.
  • Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside of the Classroom – Published by NCES this executive report details some of the effects of technology and suggests some methods to improve access.

Challenge: Poverty, Homelessness, and Home Insecurity

Economic recession, stalling job growth numbers, and related crises continue to contribute to already alarming poverty and homelessness trends in America. Lack of basic resources adversely affect education outcomes. According to NCES, in 2018 18% of students came from families living in poverty. Another study found that nearly half of children live at or near the national poverty line.

These realities often led to a vicious cycle where impacted students are at a greater risk of dropping out of school or falling behind. Poverty and homelessness can make students feel alienated. It reduces motor skills and attentiveness, and can lead to poor physical health conditions that prohibit meaningful engagement.

Solutions and Support: K-12

Teachers and counselors can help identify at-risk students and point families to local initiatives, but they often lack the resources necessary to address poverty and homelessness. Recent legislative efforts like the Every Student Succeeds Act include provisions designed to help students suffering from poverty or homelessness. The National Education Association provides a handy infographic with more information on this.

Some local K-12 schools deliver programs for families in need with the help of state and federal governments. These programs offer care, public advocacy, and aim to remove educational barriers. Other organizations offer guidelines for proactive behavior management and intervention practices.

Solution and Support: College

Many higher education institutions support students struggling with poverty and homelessness by engaging in public advocacy efforts to raise awareness. Some colleges and universities go a step further by creating poverty and homelessness guides designed to connect students with local resources.

For students attending school in person, on-campus housing can provide resources to help mitigate homelessness in some cases. Additionally, work-study placements, paid internships, and other employment opportunities on campus can help provide financial stability. Many schools extend these opportunities but availability can be limited.


Challenge: Food Insecurity

Food insecurity often results from poverty or homelessness and poses similar challenges to students. Researchers at the Brookings Institution recently found that nearly 14 million school-aged children do not get enough to eat each day. A similar report by Forbes indicates that the number of food insecure households more than doubled this year alone.

The effects on education make a lasting impact. Lack of food and proper nutrition can be damaging to health and slows brain development. For example, kindergarteners experiencing food insecurity often fall behind their peers cognitively and emotionally. Older students and those in college report similar issues and an overall decrease in psychosocial health.

Solutions and Support: K-12

Local food pantries and soup kitchens supported by charities or other nonprofits are excellent resources to help combat food insecurity. Some states have even implemented measures that allow in-school food pantries geared toward students in need. Feeding America has a handy tool to help locate resources in your area.

The best resources by far are school-based nutrition programs subsidized by state and federal governments. These programs provide eligible students with the food they need (normally breakfast and/or lunch) using school resources. The USDA offers one such program and this tool can help you find similar initiatives in your own state.

Solution and Support: College

College students facing food security can take advantage of similar government programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides income-based benefits for food purchases. The U.S. Government Accountability Office offers additional tools and is working to expand and clarify SNAP benefits for college students.

Local food pantries and other resources are a great help as well. Some schools even maintain their own pantries for student access. Others provide reduced dining plan options, guides, and other toolkits that you can use to overcome food security.