NCYL’s Foster Youth Education Initiative has released its long-awaited report on how California is ensuring foster children receive appropriate educational opportunities.
Most children have parents who monitor their academic progress, attend parent-teacher conferences, enroll them in appropriate classes, and generally ensure they receive a quality education. Their parents serve as their educational advocates.
Foster youth frequently lack such advocates. As a consequence, they often fail to receive the opportunities necessary to succeed in school. This report examines an emerging strategy designed to ensure foster youth receive the opportunities they need: the creation of educational advocacy systems for foster youth. These systems provide a structure for identifying foster youth facing challenges, determining their educational needs, and ensuring they receive appropriate support. The report outlines the common components of education advocacy systems and provides an overview of 11 different such systems across California. It also offers concrete recommendations for working to improve the educational and life outcomes of these children.
Download the report.
New Initiative Seeks to Ensure Foster Youth Receive the Educational Advocacy and Opportunities They Need to Succeed
Foster children are taken from their families because they have experienced abuse or neglect. Bounced from home to home and school to school, their educational outcomes are tragically poor. Most children have parents who monitor their academic progress, attend parent-teacher conferences, enroll them in appropriate classes, and generally ensure that they receive a high quality education. Foster children frequently lack such educational advocacy. Without an educational advocate, they often do not receive the educational opportunities they are entitled to. NCYL's new foster youth education initiative seeks to ensure foster youth receive the educational advocacy and opportunities they need to succeed in school and in life.
There are more than half a million foster children in the United States. Children in foster care are taken from their families and placed in state custody because they have experienced abuse or neglect and cannot remain safely at home.
Perhaps more than any other group of children, foster youth are in desperate need of high-quality public education. They depend on the educational system to provide positive role models, role models other children might find at home. They also depend on the educational system to provide relationships that other children develop through their extended family and friends. And foster youth depend on the system to provide the educational opportunities they need to succeed in life.
Unfortunately, most foster youth do not receive the education they need. They are frequently bounced from home to home and school to school, leading to prolonged absences, inappropriate placements, missing records, lost credits, and deficient special education services. Foster children are disproportionately funneled into low-quality and alternative schools and are frequently denied the educational opportunities they are entitled to.
The consequences are tragic. Compared to their peers, foster children are more likely to:
- Have higher rates of absenteeism and disciplinary referrals
- Perform below grade level
- Be held back in school
- Drop out of high school
- Not attend a 4-year college (fewer than 3 percent do so)
The cost to these children, and society, is extraordinary. Approximately 25 percent of former foster children experience homelessness, around 25 percent have been arrested, and spent time incarcerated, and about 33 percent receive public assistance. Unemployment rates among former foster youth tops 50 percent.
The Need for Educational Advocacy
The educational challenges faced by foster youth have not gone unnoticed. The federal Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008 includes provisions to improve the educational outcomes of this population. States such as California have enacted legislation entitling foster youth to specific educational opportunities.
Moreover, there are numerous programs at the local level designed to help foster children succeed in school. These entitlements and programs have helped tens of thousands of foster youth, but many continue to slip through the cracks. There is growing recognition that a complementary strategy is needed, one focused on ensuring all foster youth receive the educational opportunities they are promised on paper. This strategy focuses on providing educational advocates to individual foster youth who play much the same role as other children's parents — attending parent-teacher conferences, returning teacher phone calls, ensuring enrollment in appropriate classes, and generally making sure their children get a good education.
Education Advocacy Systems
Education advocacy systems provide a structure through which foster youth facing educational challenges are identified, their needs determined, and appropriate advocacy provided. While the specifics of each system differ, each shares a comment four-part architecture:
A) A source of referrals
B) A case management process
C) A pool of specialized educational advocates
D) System management.
With numerous adults responsible for a foster child's well-being and success, it is imperative that anyone be able to refer a child to their local education advocacy system. An educational issue might be identified by a foster parent, relative, teacher, judge, child welfare worker, court-appointed special advocate, or group home staff.
Case Management Process
The case management process is the core of an education advocacy system. Whether performed by a centralized panel or decentralized administrators, case management consists of a four-stage cycle:
- Gathering information about the referred child and their educational challenges
- Determining the child's educational needs
- Ensuring the child receives appropriate educational advocacy
- Monitoring the situation to ensure the child receives high quality education opportunities
Specialized Educational Advocates
Education advocacy systems train the adults in a foster child's life to become strong educational advocates. Foster youth with greater educational challenges sometimes require what are known as specialized educational advocates. These advocates include:
Expert advocates — individuals with a thorough understanding of education law and the child welfare system
Education attorneys — attorneys trained in education law
Referral specialists — individuals with expert knowledge of local community resources available to foster youth
Mental health professionals — psychologists and psychiatrists
Special education experts — resources specialists and experts in learning disabilities.
Specialized advocates are connected to a case as needed and work directly on behalf of the referred foster child.
In addition to procedures for handling individual cases, education advocacy systems require system-level management. Such management includes coordinating outreach, managing the budget, locating sustainable sources of funding, monitoring intake, and initiating data-driven improvement.
The Foster Youth Education Initiative
The foster youth education initiative improves the educational outcomes of foster youth by ensuring they have the educational advocacy they need to succeed. To that end, this new NCYL initiative helps localities develop and operate education advocacy systems. The project also promotes state-level policies that encourage the development of such systems. NCYL is currently seeking foundation support for this initiative.
Developing Local Education Advocacy Systems
The focus is on collaborating with local agencies and public-interest organizations to create an education advocacy plan: a collection of procedures and responsibilities that details how foster youth are provided the advocacy and opportunities they need.
Managing Local Education Advocacy Systems
When necessary, the initiative manages education advocacy systems during their initial period of operation. During this period, the initiative helps develop the local infrastructure and institutional capacity to manage the system on an ongoing basis.
Click here to download pamphlet about the Initiative.
Please contact Jesse Hahnel with questions or for more information.