Legislation Would Keep Foster Kids From Having to Change Schools

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The traumatic changes children in foster care face often include disrupted schooling. They may have to change schools when they first enter foster care, then shift from school to school with each new foster home.

Sixty-five percent of foster kids in Washington and Oregon states, for example, went to seven or more schools from elementary to high school, according to the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study.

A bill introduced in the Senate in mid-June would require school districts and child welfare agencies to work together to keep kids in their original school when it is in their best interest.

Sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Al Franken, D-Minn., the bill, the Educational Stability of Foster Youth Act, has bipartisan support, with Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, signing on.

It’s an “impressive lineup of sponsors,” said Cynthia Smith, chief legal and advisory officer of CASA for Children, a network of volunteer court-appointed advocates for foster children.

[Related: Youth Today's complete foster care coverage]

On Friday, an aide to Grassley said the senator was optimistic that the measure would be included in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

This reauthorization bill is expected to reach the Senate floor for debate on July 7. It seeks to replace No Child Left Behind.

More than 400,000 children are in foster care in the United States, according to the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An estimated 260,000 of them are school age, according to a statement by Grassley and Franken. Half to three-fourths of these children had to change schools when they were put in foster care, the two senators said.

Lack of school stability “can put them behind in their education, and getting behind can be hard to overcome,” Grassley said in the statement.

The bill would let children stay in their original school when they enter foster care or are moved into another foster home — unless it is judged in their best interest to change schools.

The bill mandates funding for transportation when needed and mandates quick access to a child’s school records. It also requires school districts to designate an employee to be a “point of contact” with the child welfare agency.

Franken said in a statement that a quality education in a supportive environment can help foster children overcome the neglect, abuse and instability they may have experienced.

Disrupted schooling can have a serious negative effect. Research shows it takes kids four to six months to recover academically when they change schools, according to Advocates for Children of New York.

Foster kids are twice as likely to drop out of high school as other kids, according to researchers from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

More stories related to this one:

Senators Push to Keep Kids Out of Foster Care

Making Health Care Access Easier for Young People Leaving Foster Care

California Photographers Focus on Life After Foster Care in New Book

The One Question Foster Care Workers Need to Ask Themselves