The American Bar Association’s (ABA) Center on Children and the Law has released their National Datasheet for 2022. The 2022 National Datasheet includes resources that summarize key research findings on foster care youth in education, provide a national summary of student outcome data, and summarize federal laws that address the disparate educational outcomes that foster youth face. During this pandemic period there are more than 160,000 children in foster care in the just the grades K through 8th grade alone. There has been limited focus on this population despite the education challenges all students have faced.
Before the pandemic there was a growing awareness of the unique educational needs of foster care students that has been accompanied by an increase in research on the educational needs and challenges of this population. Both federal child welfare law (Title IV-E and IV-B) and Education law (ESEA) have been amended to help address some of these challenges.
On the ABA page, you can access the following resources:
Exploring Education Outcomes: What Research Tells Us is a summary of recent research that highlights the barriers students in foster care face in their education and the positive impact educational involvement and success can have. Greater school engagement was shown to be a protective barrier against “academically threatening problem behaviors” and was associated with better mental and behavioral health outcomes.
A link was also found between school stability and academic achievement. Students in foster care who had greater placement stability had higher scores on standardized tests, a decreased risk of dropping out, higher levels of school engagement, and were more likely to develop supportive relationships vital to developing resilience. Even just one fewer change in living arrangement per year led to a doubled chance of high school graduation before leaving foster care.
Placement stability was also associated with higher rates of college enrollment when foster care students were allowed to remain in care until age 21. Additionally, students were more likely to stay enrolled if they had independent living stability and supports.
Post-secondary education enrollment greatly improved later employment attainment. Foster care students who completed any postsecondary education or training even without a degree increased their average work-life earnings by $120,000. Outcomes were even greater for foster care students who obtained a four-year degree, earning an average of $481,000 more during their career than their peers who only had a high school diploma.
Fast Facts: Data At A Glance provides a national summary of foster care student outcome data and compares the educational outcomes between students in foster care and their non foster care peers. For instance, 30%-50% of students in foster care received special education services as compared to 14% of non-foster students. Additionally, foster students have much higher rates of absenteeism and are 3-4 times more likely to be expelled than students who are not in foster care.
The data presented here supports the claim that:
“Strong policies and practices are needed to create positive school experiences and counteract the negative effects of abuse, neglect, separation, and lack of permanency, often experienced by children and youth in foster care. A strong education can improve the well-being of students in physical, intellectual, social, and emotional domains while in school and in adulthood.”
Fast Facts: Data At A Glance, State Data Template provides the same national data summary found in the previous fact sheet but provides a template for states to include their own data and compare it to national numbers. Doing so can increase a state’s understanding of the needs of its own foster youth and identify areas to expand research or implement policy changes to remedy the challenges their students may face.
Key Federal Laws: Supporting Students in Foster Care provides a summary of federal laws that seek to improve educational outcomes for foster care youth from which most state and local policies are built from.
The resources provided above can serve to educate advocates of the barriers foster students face and inform future policies that remedy such barriers. The ABA states that:
“These resources can individually or collectively inform advocates, policymakers, agency leaders, and other key stakeholders. With continued cross-system collaboration and improvements in implementation of federal and state laws and policies, advocates are positioned to build on what is being learned, bring about change, and promote success for all children and youth in foster care.”