The educational problem for foster children is not simply about a drop-out rate. Rather, challenges for foster youth are present through all levels of their education. In elementary, middle, and high school, foster children’s success levels are not comparable to those of other children. Students in foster care usually score about 16 to 20 percentile points below others in statewide standardized testing, and one study found that schools classified foster kids as learning-disabled twice as often as they did other students. This same study reported that the gap shown in standardized test scores for foster children is the same as that of English learners and learning-disabled students. Foster kids have a higher rate of absence and lateness, and the American School Board Journal reported that these children repeat grades often and are twice as likely to drop out compared to non-foster children.
The reasons behind these findings include the fact that foster children are often moved from home to home, requiring them to switch schools on a very regular basis compared to other children. Foster children usually have 1 to 2 placement changes per year, on average, and one in ten foster kids attends three or more schools during the school year! Besides the inconvenience that this causes (educators do not have enough time to really help a student academically, and different curricula can confuse the child and make learning more difficult), foster kids also face other problems that affect their performance in the classroom.
The strained family relationships outside of school can take a toll on kids emotionally and affect their focus, and additional difficulty can arise when foster parents are sometimes not given the same rights and recognition in schools that other parents are. Confidentiality policies and complicated transfer of academic records can present a lot of frustration for everyone involved in the child’s welfare. One way this problem could be confronted effectively is from the school’s side. By educating themselves about the unique academic needs of foster kids, teachers and school administrators can help make transitions easier and make it easier for foster kids to succeed in the classroom. This video curriculum called Endless Dreams helps educators understand the challenges faced by foster kids in school, as well as potential solutions to these problems.
Judges, foster parents, and advocates should also learn more about the educational needs of foster children in order to help promote options that will best allow the child be successful in school. This internet resource is a checklist that judges can use to ensure the right questions are being asked in court to fully address a child’s educational needs. Foster parents can also become advocates for the educational needs of their foster children; this PDF training resource or similar resources can be very helpful for foster parents when they have concerns or want to voice concerns about the child’s education. Of course, CASA volunteers also have a responsibility to advocate for the child’s best interest, and success in school should be a priority.
The Georgia Education Advocate Project is a pilot program which is similar to CASA volunteering; volunteer education advocates must have a year of experience as a CASA and then be trained to investigate a child’s educational needs, create an education plan, and then ensure the plan is followed through. In Los Angeles, a similar program was recently started and found the graduation rate of foster kids in the program rose by 25%. In one foster kid’s case, the girl was scheduled to move foster homes (and switch schools) one month before graduation. The workers with this program called other foster homes in the girl’s current school district until they found one who agreed to have her move in with them so that she could continue her study and graduate from her high school. In Georgia, the Education Advocate program is in place in DeKalb and Fulton counties, and not only advocates for the best interest of the child but teaches foster kids valuable self-advocacy skills as well. Do you think this program would be welcomed in Athens? Share your opinions about these issues in the comments below!