Federal Government Takes Critical Step to Ensure Educational Stability for Foster Youth

Juvenile Law Center,

During his time in foster care, Jarrett changed schools six times. One of these moves occurred three weeks before the end of the semester. Because his school records didn’t arrive at his new school on time, Jarrett was not granted permission to take final exams or complete final projects for his courses. His GPA plummeted from 3.6 to 1.4 due to the missing coursework.

There are countless other foster youth like Jarrett—youth who are bounced from living placement to living placement, typically changing schools each time. In fact, 34% of 17-18-year-olds in foster care have experienced five or more school changes. This lack of stability leads not only to missing records and lost credits, but loss of interest in education. These kids are often disenchanted and at high risk of dropout.

This spring, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services took an important step to clarify states’ responsibility to provide educational stability for foster youth through implementation of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. As part of the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, Juvenile Law Center has been a strong advocate for effective implementation of that act at both the state and federal level since its passage. We are delighted that the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have been so responsive. 

In a joint letter to chief state school officers and child welfare directors on May 30, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services highlighted these important messages about educational stability:

  • Providing school stability for foster youth is an obligation under Fostering Connections, and applies to local education agencies as well as child welfare agencies
  • State education agencies should remind local agencies of this obligation
  • States and localities must raise awareness of efforts and progress toward improving educational outcomes and the well-being of children in foster care; and
  • Child welfare and education agencies should work together this summer to develop policies and procedures that ensure both educational stability and immediate enrollment of all school-aged foster youth in the upcoming school year

The Departments’ clarification about the mutual obligations shared by education and child welfare agencies, accompanied by the launch of the Department of Education’s Students in Foster Care website, is vital to the educational success of children in foster care. Much work remains at the state and local level to use this guidance to support successful outcomes for children.

The Legal Center for Foster Care and Education is a resource to states and localities in doing this work: we have examples of best practices and tools, and can provide expertise on effective interagency collaboration to help foster youth succeed in school. For more information, visit the Legal Center’s Fostering Connections website.