On Tuesday Jan. 28th, the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education will hold two briefings on the educational achievement of students in foster care in Washington D.C.
The briefings will explore the continued barriers to improving the educational outcomes of students in foster care, and offer some solutions that have been found on the state and local level.
Panelists will include: Anne Marie Ambrose, commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of of Human Services; William Myles, Assistant Superintendent for Cincinnati Public Schools; Kayla VanDyke a former foster youth and student at Hamline University; and Dianna Walters of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative who will serve as a representative for the National Working Group.
The National Working Group is comprised of advocacy groups, charitable foundations and other organizations from both the fields of education and child welfare.
In recent years the broad coalition — held together by a core set of leaders from the American Bar Association’s Center for Children and the Law, the Juvenile Law Center and the Children’s Defense Fund — has served a key role educating Congress on the unique educational needs of children in foster care.
Most notably the group was very active in tracking and disseminating information on the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which allows social workers access to student records; and for providing input to a 2012 convening co-sponsored by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families and the Department of Education, which was intended to breed collaboration between education and foster care agencies.
The intention of the briefings being held this week on both the Senate and House sides of Capitol Hill is to reinforce the need for continued federal action on the issue.
Huge barriers to foster student success remain. Outside the endemic problems that no stroke of a president’s pen can eliminate, the federal government plays a critical role in setting the tone for heightened expectations of the academic potential of students in foster care.
The elephant in the room in the successive waves of advocacy on this issue is always the role of education entities in the assistance of foster youths. For years, foster care advocates have won substantial improvement in the field of child welfare, culminating with strict educational mandates embedded in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.
They have been less effective in their efforts to convince legislators and educational leaders to take a serious stake in the school system’s responsibility to improve the well-being of students in foster care.
The most glaring example of the incongruous approach of child welfare and education are Fostering Connections’ mandates to ensure students can stay in their school of best interest if their placements change, and that credits and school records are transferred in a timely manner if a school move is deemed necessary.
The problem is that this mandate only applies to child welfare administrations, leaving social workers to petition schools on speedy transfers of records and whether or not they can keep kids in a school even if he or she has moved to a new district.
The answer, long eyed by child welfare advocates, has been amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include mirror mandates to Fostering Connections. In 2011 and 2012, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) approved a bill that would do as much. But years of gridlock between Republicans and Democrats have left the work of reauthorizing ESEA and overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act, unfinished.
Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.
Note: Fostering Media Connections is a member of the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education.