Every young person deserves a quality education, including youth in the child welfare and justice systems, but system involvement often impede their educational progress. Approximately 36% of students in foster care don’t graduate from high school on time, and 66% of youth in the juvenile justice system drop out. The systems charged with caring for our youth have an obligation to educate them as well.

Overcoming Barriers

Too often, system involvement means frequent school changes, which interrupts the educational continuity youth need to succeed. Marginalized youth in these systems — including youth of color, youth with disabilities, girls, LGBTQ+ youth — should receive the services, support, and protections necessary to overcome barriers to their educational success. All system-involved youth need assistance in prompt re-entry to their neighborhood schools, including transfer of academic credits and effective planning, before returning to their communities from juvenile justice facilities, group homes, and other institutions.

Making Sure Youth Succeed

Quality education is vital to future success. Real learning happens in positive, trauma-informed settings. Youth in the child welfare and justice systems should feel safe and have a voice. We also know that young people fare better in schools based in their communities — not inside correctional or treatment facilities.

Approximately 40% of former youth in foster care will attend college; 8% will graduate, and less than 3% of former foster youth will earn a degree by age 25. Only 1% of justice-involved youth graduate from college. Youth in the child welfare and justice systems must be prepared to attend and succeed in college, technical training programs, and careers; they must have opportunities to pursue higher education and employment that will provide them with financial security and independence.

Juvenile Law Center works to enforce education rights for system-involved youth, fights to keep youth at home and in their communities, and advocates for educational policies and practices that ensure they are on track for a successful adulthood.

Blueprint for Change: Education Success for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

We created the Blueprint for Change as a tool to help all stakeholders promote educational success for youth in the juvenile justice system in their jurisdiction. This tool includes 10 goals that describe a broad framework for promoting education success for young people involved in the juvenile justice system. Each goal contains benchmarks and examples of programs, legislation, resources, policies, and practices to improve educational outcomes for children in the juvenile justice system.