In submitting our testimony to the House Subcommittee on Family and Worker Support this is what we said about education issues:
As we emerge from the pandemic, assessments will need to be made of the current and long-term impact of this crisis on every child’s education goals and attainment. This is especially true of children and youth in foster care, who were already at risk for educational challenges and delays prior to the pandemic. In 2008, with the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success Act, this Subcommittee acknowledged the additional educational barriers experienced by children and youth in foster care and was instrumental in requiring certain safeguards for educational access for children and youth in foster care in terms of school stability, timely enrollment, records transfer, and transportation costs. In turn, Congress amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 2015 to mirror some requirements adopted by this Subcommittee. To enhance the collaborative approach both laws together must support educational needs. We urge the Subcommittee to evaluate how these changes are being implemented and how they can be improved especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Increased state and local staff capacity. One area that can be improved is to have clear requirements that individuals be designated to focus on the complex education challenges of students in foster care within both state and local child welfare agencies (also known as Points of Contact (POCs)). Under the ESEA, states must provide a POC for children in foster care in the State Education Agency (SEA) and, if the local child welfare agency has a designated POC, that triggers a POC at the Local Education Agency (LEA). Requiring states to have a POC in state and local child welfare agencies will not only increase the capacity of child welfare agencies to navigate education complexities but will also trigger and ensure all LEAs have similar supports.
Supporting the educational success of students in foster requires collaboration between child welfare and education, and this builds the infrastructure for collaboration. Together, POCs in both systems can together help navigate the complex and unique challenges for children in foster care including education enrollment, decision making and parental rights, school stability and best interest decisions regarding school changes, and foster parent participation and input.
Increased advocacy, services and supports. In reviewing past child welfare and education legislation, other areas needing attention include: how are continued barriers to school stability/immediate enrollment being addressed, particularly in light of the current pandemic; how easily can these students retain school records and credits during a transfer; how are students in foster care accessing and participating in extracurricular activities; and how to improve special education supports and advocacy for caregivers and students given the disproportionate number of students in foster care with disabilities. Additionally, discussions about infrastructure should highlight the need for priority access to technology and connectivity for students in foster care.
Decision making and court oversight. One of the biggest challenges related to the education of students in foster care is lack of clarity over education decision making. The pandemic and the increased decisions relating to virtual and other school options has exacerbated this challenge. Creating uniform requirements for clearly identifying the child’s educational decisionmakers and ensuring that educational issues are addressed in court hearings, would make a significant impact. This requirement could alleviate confusion and address the often challenging and complex issues regarding the role of parents, foster parents and child welfare agencies in the education-decision making process.
Federal technical assistance support. A coordinated federal response is needed to continue to bring attention and improvements to students in foster care. Other vulnerable students, including homeless students, have federal formula grant programs and corresponding technical assistance centers, to support on-the-ground implementation. A federal Foster Care and Education Technical Assistance Center could build the capacity of child welfare and education agencies. Additionally, expanded staff support in the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services would model at the federal level the importance of collaboration to support all students in foster care.