The Miseducation of Foster Youth

I’m currently in the midst of my first semester of graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, and I want to drop out. I’ve called an aid advisor to see how much of a financial strain I’ll inherit if I drop my courses.

As an educated woman, I understand the importance of school to society.  But as someone who has hated school since the beginnings of time, with an even more horrid experience once I entered foster care, school will never be a true priority to me, especially when my livelihood is jeopardized or I feel like I’ll fail at it regardless. I’m still battling embedded inadequacies around education, and I emancipated from the system eight years ago!

For most kids in America, school is a major facet in discovering one’s skills and talents while honing in on possible career paths. Our children not only learn about the Pythagorean theorem and verb conjugation, but how to aspire and dream. But for many foster youth, the school experience often fuels low self-esteem as it is another system in which their plight is ignored and aspersions are reinforced through disciplinary action.

Photo credit PBS.org
Photo credit: PBS.org

Here are a few ways that school becomes a low priority to foster youth:

  • When foster care placements offer little support in transportation to and from school
  • When school administrators use foster care backgrounds as supportive evidence for punitive responses to behavioral issues
  • When teachers fail to engage foster care placements in learning plans and needs of foster youth
  • When foster care placements fail to engage with teachers about learning plans and educational supports needed for foster youth
  • When physiological needs aren’t being met (seriously, no one is paying attention in class when hungry, seven-day notice’d, lacking proper clothing, and/or fearful of their placement environment)
  • When emotional support isn’t being offered at home and at school
  • When academic institutions aren’t trained on the specific needs and culture of system-dependent children or of available resources to facilitate supports
  • When foster care placements are made and/or changed with little regard to current school proximity
  • When alternative schools are presented as the only option for transition-age youth
  • When foster care placements have limited knowledge of academic support programs and resources to supplement learning gaps or problem subjects
  • When academic excellence isn’t the expectation for foster youth
  • When academic mediocrity is the accepted norm for foster youth
  • When teachers and other school personnel are silent to the perils foster youth face while in out-of-home care.

Those same noted sentiments, actions and inactions showcase a low regard for foster youth by school professionals as well as foster caretakers. In layman’s terms: If professionals in youth and education services don’t care enough to ensure smooth transitions and efficient support to foster youth in school, then how can we expect foster youth to be overly invested in their academic careers?

If we look thoroughly at high school dropout rates, college readiness, entrance and graduation rates, suspensions and expulsions, we’ll see glimpses of a subculture in foster care where academia is regarded with low reverence. That lack of connection is a byproduct of substandard treatment and supports while in school.

There is hope that some of the issues I have pointed out will be addressed through national reform efforts, but there is so much more to do. As providers and caretakers, we have to ask ourselves how important should school be to our youth. Because if it’s supposed to be a top priority, we have to ensure that all environments cultivate that belief.

We cannot expect our young people to excel in school if we’re not doing our best to support them in their academic endeavors. Because of systematic failures, we’re now combating a culture of accepted and expected miseducation of foster youth.

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Sade A. Daniels
About Sade A. Daniels 5 Articles
When Sade isn’t being a full time graduate student at Cal Berkeley, providing direct services for transition aged foster youth at Bay Area Youth Center (East Bay-Sunny Hills Services), keynoting at various conferences and training the public on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking with MISSSEY, or working on her very first book to be published this New Years, she’s hopefully asleep.

1 Comment

  1. Could these facts become synonymous with ‘failure to thrive’ issues? Do we have researched documentation of what the average, non-government placement child/youth looks like ‘thriving’? Wouldn’t a comparative research of ‘failure to thrive’ and ‘thriving’ make an interesting graduate ‘thesis’? How would ‘resilience’ factor in? Just asking . . . .

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