As Senate work stalled today on overhauling the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a group of child welfare advocates hosted a webcast forum to discuss what the federal government and states can do to better assist the educational pursuits of foster youth.
The webcast included Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Acting Assistant Secretary to the Administration and Children and Families George Sheldon. Also on the webcast were three former foster youth who have interned for members of Congress and education workers from California.
The central suggestion that emerged from the webcast was keeping foster youth connected to the schools they were accustomed to, even in situations where placements to multiple homes occurred.
“If you had to move four times in elementary school or five times in high school, you might fall behind too,” Landrieu said. “It is emotionally difficult.
Because of the current interest in reauthorizing ESEA, Landrieu said, “there is an opportunity right now to get this fixed.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, planned to introduce an amendment to the committee’s ESEA bill that would for the first time place federal requirements on schools to pay special attention to stable services for foster youths.
There is also a need for better communication between child welfare and education agencies, both at the federal and state level, Sheldon said. His agency plans to host a joint conference with the Education Department to help some states develop plans to appropriately share information about children in the care of the child welfare system.
Derek Riggins, a former foster youth who now works for the Senate Finance Committee, said a start would be for the Child and Family Services Review to ask state child welfare agencies for more information on the stability and quality of education for foster children.
“The CFSR has one question [about education]: Do children receive appropriate services? This statement alone don’t uncover much,” Riggins said. And only two states were even in conformity with that measure during the second round of the CFSR, which began in 2007, he said.
The webcast event was hosted by Fostering Media Connections and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. The groups also released an action guide that highlights how different states have sought to improve the connection between foster youth and the classroom, and what different societal factions can do to be agents of better educational services.