Three Ways Schools Can Help Students Leaving Foster Care Land on Their Feet
Senior year transitions can be tough: finalizing credits, applying for colleges, considering jobs—and, if students are in the foster care system, it can mean becoming suddenly homeless and without family support. Here's how schools can keep the transition from derailing students' educations.
A new study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Inititiative finds half of foster-involved teenagers leave the system without having been either reunited with their birth family or having found a new family for adoption or guardianship. Black and Hispanic students were at least 10 percent more likely to be emancipated in this way than their white peers. Many of these students are emancipated before they graduate high school, and the transition can make continuing their education significantly harder. Only 76 percent of students transitioning from foster care graduate high school, the report finds.
"This is a group of young people that schools could wrap their arms around so to speak ... a place of opportunity where there could be more investment and collaboration between child welfare agencies and schools," said Leslie Gross, director of the Youth Opportunities Inititiative.
The study tracked state data on the 25 percent of students in foster care age 14 and older, more than 171,000 students nationwide. Some 26,000 age-out of the system each year, though state rules vary significantly, from 16 to 21. Of exiting students who receive transition services, only 23 percent had employment or vocational training, and the same portion had help with finding money to continue their education. Fewer than one in five foster students even had support for finding housing after leaving the foster system. Those are important considerations for schools, which under the Every Student Succeeds Act have to track the academic achievement and graduation rates of their foster and homeless students.
As of this September, only 33 states provide support for districts in meeting ESSA requirements for foster students. The study provides state-by-state statistics on racial and age demographics of students in foster care and their transition supports. Among the report's recommendations:
- Build relationships. The report found half of students in foster care experience at least three placements, which can make it difficult for students to build trusting relationships. Assigning such students mentors and working to keep them their home school whenever possible can increase their likelihood of graduating high school, even if their residence changes. "Sometimes for young people who are in foster care, school is kind of that one place where they have these really incredible adult connections that are very supportive," Gross said, "So disrupting those can be really challenging. Ensuring that there are folks in the school that are a point of contact for young people who are in foster care often can really help in terms of services and supports and keeping them on that path to graduation."
- Share data and information among school and child welfare agencies. More than a third of emancipated foster students reported experiencing homelessness; schools should be aware of when a student is expected to leave foster care and connect him or her to other social support organizations, as well as homeless student education services.
- Provide academic opportunities. Because of higher rates of trauma, missed school and mobility, students in foster care are often less likely to be tapped for academic enrichment or other programs, but such programs can help keep the students academically engaged when they leave the foster system.