January 08, 2013
Bill That Aims to Help Foster Youth Succeed in School Awaits the President’s Signature
Photo via scot2342 on flickr
[UPDATE: President Obama signed the Uninterrupted Scholars Act into law on January 14, 2013. View the full text of the bill here.]
Congress has just sent a bill to the President that will make it easier for foster youth to be educated. While congressional partisanship on the fiscal cliff has dominated the headlines for the past few weeks, a bill to help foster children avoid falling off another kind of cliff has garnered unanimous bipartisan support and now awaits the President’s signature.
Juvenile Law Center applauds the bill’s sponsors, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA 37th District), for working to pass the Uninterrupted Scholars Act ("USA Act"). Juvenile Law Center, with the Children’s Defense Fund and members of the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, worked closely with Congress on this bill from its inception. Passage of the USA Act marks a great beginning for 2013 and is an important first step in efforts to address the educational needs of youth in foster care.
The USA Act makes it easier for case workers to gain access to school records, and allows them to disclose the information for the limited purpose of assisting a child in obtaining the educational services he or she needs. The USA Act strikes a good balance, allowing schools to share information in a targeted way with child welfare agencies, while still protecting family rights and student confidentiality.
Case workers need immediate access to education information to help kids succeed in school. Before the passage of the USA Act, children suffered from harmful delays while child welfare workers tried to access school records. One foster youth who eventually graduated from high school described a low period in which he considered dropping out. He explained that, after his mother died, "I hoped that my teachers would notice that I was angry, or lost." Instead, the teacher only seemed frustrated with his lack of focus. This child was lucky. A counselor helped him transfer to a smaller school where he got the attention he needed to succeed. The USA Act makes it easier for the child welfare agency to get the education records that will tell them when a youth is struggling in school, so case workers can collaborate with educators to figure out what the child needs.
Over 80% of youth in foster care say they want to go to college, but most don’t make it. Kids in foster care are struggling—they face abuse or neglect at home, then suffer the trauma of being taken away from their families, and often also from their neighborhoods and schools. Only about half graduate from high school, and only 3% graduate from college.
The USA Act is a huge step in the right direction. In coming years, Congress should build on this success by supporting laws that help children in foster care enter school ready to learn, ensure school stability for highly mobile youth, connect students with high-quality academic and extra-curricular programming, and facilitate their transition to higher education.
For kids in foster care, this legislation is a major step forward. It provides great progress toward school success—and ultimately success in life.
Juvenile Law Center applauds the bi-partisan efforts of the 112th Congress to act in the best interests of America’s vulnerable youth.