By Colin Cummins
When you talk about foster care, an endless laundry list of problems gets put on the table. We have been covering foster care related issues extensively the past couple months because it seems that whenever we do a little bit of digging, we find yet another problem that foster children must face. So, in keeping with our trend, the topic for this week, education.
The National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care (published in January 2014), revealed some telling statistics. The percentage of foster children in the United States who graduated high school, and attend college, is only 20%. But, the percentage of kids who actually walk away with a bachelor degree is even lower at 2%-9%.
Before you keep reading, ask yourself this, did those numbers surprise you? Education is arguably the second most important factor in a young child's life, right behind a stable household. Take that away, and these kids have no chance. The science is in: education is a foundation for future economic success, it promotes physical health, mental health, and stronger social ties. If we can’t provide children with better home lives, shouldn’t we at least bend over backward to make sure their educational experience covers the missing gaps and helps them moving forward?
So how do we make education more impactful and effective? Luckily there are several federal policies aimed at making education more favorable for foster kids, and there are some states that have introduced programs to make it easier for foster kids to continue their education.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 has made it a requirement for child welfare agencies to have a plan for “ensuring the educational stability of the child while in foster care.” A specific example of this policy is allowing the child to remain in the school that they’re currently enrolled in at the time of placement; unless it’s not in the child’s best interest.
The Uninterrupted Scholars Act was an amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to make it easier for education records to be shared between welfare workers and state agencies to increase transparency and accountability.
Maine took a proactive measure to provide foster children with "educational liaisons" to help with educational disruption. The liaisons would also be responsible for creating specific graduation plans for the student based on coursework completed.
Beyond the Legislation
Please note, The National Factsheet on Educational Outcomes lists even more legislation and programs that are helpful to foster youth, but the policies and programs mentioned above are a foundation for the future. Legislation that guarantees a stable education for foster youth is an outstanding start to finding a concrete solution, but it will take more than that. Non-profit organizations and influential benefactors will need to play an important role. Consider the decorated gymnastics Olympian and former foster youth, Simone Biles. She has partnered with the nonprofit online school, University of the People, which offers a scholarship fund specifically for foster children.
Although the statistics look grim, we are moving in the right direction for providing a stable education for foster children. As long as we continue to introduce new ideas and programs geared towards education for foster children, we at CAIRS remain optimistic for the future.
As always, our sources are listed below: