The U. S. Department of Education recently issued new guidelines regarding educational stability for students in the foster care system.

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The Education Department’s guide clarifies how stakeholders should determine “best interest,” and gives advice on how state and local agencies, welfare agencies, and school officials should best collaborate in supporting students in the foster care system.

“Children in foster care experience much higher levels of residential and school instability than their peers,” the Department wrote. “Unplanned school changes may be associated with delays in children’s academic progress, leaving highly mobile students potentially more likely to fall behind their less mobile peers academically.”

The non-regulatory guidance is aimed at helping agencies adhere to the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, an amendment to provisions mandated by Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The new guidelines highlight the importance of students staying in their “school of origin,” even if the foster home has changed and transportation has to be arranged.

The guide gives suggestions on resolving “best interest” disputes, streamlining the transfer of records, and protecting the rights and privacy of students in foster care.

Up to 75 percent of all students entering foster care change schools, according to the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education. By age 17, more than 30 percent have changed schools at least five times. Data released by the Center shows that only 20 percent of foster care students attend college, with less than 10 percent ever obtaining a bachelor’s degree.  

Though there are 270,000 school-aged youths in foster care, and more than 415,000 total children in the system as a whole. Of that number, more than 97,500—or 24 percent—are African American, according to the latest available data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

“There is a higher preponderance of African American children in foster care and they tend to stay in foster care longer than Caucasian children,” said Gloria Hochman, director of communications for the National Adoption Center. They tend to be frequently moved around and the reality is that sometimes, they have grown up in homes with minimal attention to academics because there are more pressing matters, like putting food on the table and securing a job.”

According to the guide, students in the foster care system “are often exposed to a multitude of challenges throughout their childhood, including homelessness, domestic violence, abuse and neglect, chronic poverty, and other adverse childhood experiences.”

Hochman emphasized the importance of strong, proactive advocates in a foster child’s life, stating that “It’s not just food and shelter, it’s about attention to social and emotional well-being, education, and the development of special interests.”

According to Hochman, school stability is important because “school is similar to what work would be in an adult’s life. It dominates a large part of their lives.”

She agreed with the Education Department’s guidance and told the AFRO “anything agencies can do to make transitions easier, or avoid them all together, is going to be in the advantage of the child.”