Schools, and by extension school leaders, are now held accountable to serving the educational needs of foster youth. Under LCFF, the new formulation for for school funding in California, funding is linked to the educational outcomes of high-needs populations. Foster youth are one of these populations.
75% of youth in the California foster care system are school aged. Statewide, approximately 73,000 youth are supported by the state at any given time (Fricano). This total (20% of nation’s foster youth) is disproportionate, when compared to other states. A court’s reason for removing children from their home varies, from severe physical or emotional abuse to neglect. Kids from all racial groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, find themselves are affected.
But it shouldn’t take a stack of money to make us work hard for foster youth. There are other, really compelling, reasons too serve students well.
1. Foster youth are really ‘up against it.’ Educational outcomes for foster students are demonstratively appalling. Literature indicates that only half of foster children complete high school, compared with 70% of the general population (Gustavsson & MacEachron 2012). We also know that less than 2% of foster youth go on to graduate college. These realities should shake us to our bones.
2. Foster youth are literally ‘our kids.’ When a child is removed from their home, they become the responsibility of the state. As wards of the state, they literally become ‘ours.’ We become the village that is charged with the care, nurture and education of these children. Thanks to a progression of legislative action on behalf of these kids, our ‘village’ now has clearly defined roles and responsibilities. So that care is coordinated and synergistic, it behooves us to work together. As educators, we should begin with an awareness of our roles.
3. Our most challenged students deserve the most equipped teachers. Unfortunately, this is not who students in foster care traditionally get. More often, foster youth end up in low-performing schools, where teacher turnover is high and inexperienced teachers get their first jobs. Too often, their teachers are ill-equipped to address their unique needs (Zetlin et al., 20112). Even at a low-performing school, administrators can work to get these children into classrooms where the most talented and passionate teachers do their work.
4. School might be their best shot at short term predictability and permanency. The most recent legislative action, benefiting foster youth in the school setting, emphasizes educational stability. Specifically, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (2008) requires districts to keep students in their school of origin, despite a new living placement. If the student is transferred to a new school, then school records must be transferred promptly. While foster youth may experience shuffling of case workers and living placements, school can be a place of relative stability and permanency. Because constant change can be so destabilizing, we should fight to provide consistency for foster youth in the school environment.
4. We got into this profession to help. Every child needs someone to fight for them, to recognize their struggle, and (against all odds) to believe in them. You won’t be able to fix their family dynamic. You probably won’t become their foster parent. And you may not even know what they are actually ‘up against.’ But as a teacher or educator, you can play a critical role in the life of a foster youth at your school. True, we have legal obligations to serve these students well. Correct, a portion of future school funding will be tied to their acadmic success. But our primary motivator comes from within. We got into this profession to help. We want see high-needs populations thrive. And we recognize that, above all, foster youth are our kids!
Photo by Chetan Menaria via Unsplash