Children in the child welfare system face unique barriers to succeeding in school and therefore need additional educational services and support.
Many foster children struggle in school due to the trauma they experience as a result of abuse, neglect, separation and instability. 80% of foster children are held back in school at least once by the time they reach 3rd grade. Grade repetition is not always an effective form of intervention as retained students often do not improve academically, and are in fact more likely to experience behavioral problems and/or drop out of school.Figure: Foster youth and high school graduation
When foster youth get the services and support they need, they do better in school. For example, Foster Youth Services (FYS) programs provide educational and social support to current and former foster youth. 69% of children supported by FYS programs gained more than a month academically for every month of tutoring they received and in 1 year 70% of eligible FYS 12th graders completed high school.
The number of times foster children change schools impacts their educational outcomes. Children who change schools frequently make less academic progress than their peers and often fall behind each time they change schools. It is estimated that California’s foster youth attend an average of eight different schools while in foster care, and studies show these children lose 4-6 months of educational attainment every time they are transferred to a new school. This means that the average child in foster care loses over 3 years of critical learning due to school instability.
California should ensure that foster youth have equal access to a quality education. The state should work with districts to ensure that the elements of its new school finance system, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), aimed at benefiting foster youth are implemented effectively. Specifically, California should ensure the success of this new system in the coming years by, (1) collecting and analyzing new data, (2) reviewing school districts’ self-reporting on foster youth outcomes and (3) evaluating the plans to further improve foster children’s education outcomes under the Academic Performance Index (API).
California’s new school finance system, LCFF, provides school districts with additional funding to support the academic outcomes of foster youth. Additionally, foster youth are now included as a subgroup in the API. And districts are now held accountable for the educational outcomes of foster youth and must develop local plans to improve their educational outcomes.
Assembly Bill 216 (Stone), which was signed into law by the governor in September 2013, clarifies that foster youth are exempt from any district-level graduation coursework requirements if they transfer to a new district close to graduation, thus eliminating one of the many obstacles they face in obtaining a high school diploma.