May 16, 2013
To Succeed in School, Foster Youth Need Educational Stability
Note: This post is part of a series of posts recognizing National Foster Care Month.
Nationally, nearly half of youth in foster care do not complete high school by age 18 (according to this data sheet). Although many youth in foster care long to go to college, they have lower college enrollment and completion rates than their peers who are not in care.
Frequent school moves are a big part of the problem. Children in foster care are often bounced from living placement to living placement, typically changing schools each time—sometimes in the middle of a semester. These school moves disrupt students' academic progress and often lead to delayed re-enrollment, missing records, lost credits, and difficulties maintaining relationships with peers and supportive school staff.
Since she was first placed in foster care as an 18-month-old, Ana* lived in 27 different placements. She could not even remember how many schools she attended. Ana had to retake the same courses (including Spanish I and a child development class with a "fake baby") several times—sometimes simply as a result of her new school failing to obtain records from her prior schools.
During his time in foster care, Jarrett changed schools six times. One of the moves occurred three weeks before the end of the semester. When his school records did not arrive at his new school in time, Jarrett was denied permission to take final exams or complete final projects for his courses. Jarrett's GPA plummeted from 3.6 to 1.4 due to the missing coursework.
Compare the experiences of foster youth who succeed.
Staying in the same school, and receiving support in a new school, can help students in foster care engage in school and earn a diploma on time. When Ciara entered a new school in twelfth grade, her guidance counselor and vice principal made sure her credits transferred and that she was in the right classes. They involved her in school activities. Ciara cites this support as a big reason she was able to graduate and go on to community college.
The federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 requires child welfare caseworkers to consider school location when deciding where a child in foster care will live. The Act also directs case workers to provide assurances of school stability in the child's case plan.
Additionally, over 25 states have legislation that guarantees children in foster care can remain in the same school even when their living placement changes. (This is a protection that federal law has long provided to children experiencing homelessness.)
Many states have also passed laws that facilitate record and credit transfer, and help ensure youth in care who change schools get the support they need to stay on track to graduate. For example, in Maine, students in foster care whose education is disrupted work with a team to develop a school work recognition plan that outlines how the student will meet graduation requirements and post-secondary goals. Juvenile Law Center and Education Law Center-PA have been working to educate lawmakers in Pennsylvania on the need for similar legislation in Pennsylvania.
1. Learn more about this issue:
2. Contact your state representatives and tell them you want laws in place to ensure that youth in care have educational stability and that their credits transfer when they change schools so that they can stay on track to graduate and achieve educational success. (If you live in Pennsylvania, find your state representative here.)
*Names have all been changed to protect privacy.