Last week, a new bill was sent to the Congressional Committee on Education and the Work Force. Tentatively titled “Increasing Educational Stability for Children in Foster Care Act,” this bill was sponsored by California Democrat Karen Bass, with bipartisan support from Tom Marino (R-PA); Jim McDermott (D-WA); and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN). If this bill gets past committee, the changes that it implements into the U.S. Foster Care system could be significant and far reaching. [caption id="attachment_1554" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici"][/caption] Defining Instability According to the text of the bill, as of the end of 2007 over half a million U.S. children were currently in foster care. What’s more, over 800,000 had spent at least some time within the foster care system. At a time with increased regulations and emphasis on educational success, children with unstable home lives need those working for them, both social services and the school system, to maintain consistency for their best interests. A Congressional study showed that children in the foster care system move homes, on average, twice per year, usually this includes also moving schools. According to an article by the Associated Press, one of the largest problems currently faced within the foster care system is a lack of information sharing across agencies, namely social services and school districts, which has caused foster children’s educations to suffer as grades and transcripts get lost in translation. Oftentimes, foster children who are frequently moved will be forced to repeat courses or immunizations because of a lack of communication between old schools, social services, and new schools. Originally, this system which requires social workers to get a court order before accessing school records was intended to protect the privacy of the students in the system. The problem? Obviously, all of the red tape and hoops involved led to an overtaxed social services system to neglect or delay the transfer of information, often delivering notice after it was too late. This instability of education then led to dismal graduation rates and other numbers within the foster care system. How Bad Is It? Currently as a group, foster children in the U.S. perform far below their peers in terms of grades and graduation rates for both high school and college. Their high school graduation rate is locked at about 50% and of those who do graduate from high school and move on to higher education, only 6% will finish a college degree. Many of these problems, this bill argues, stem from inconsistency in education as much as in home life. Back in 2008, another federal bill regarding foster children was passed into law. This law, called the Fostering Connections to Success Act, requires foster children moving homes to be kept in the same school. However, the expense of this provision is often too much for already cash-strapped states and districts. The hope is that the new provisions contained within this new act can fill in the gaps for children who still fall through the cracks. The bipartisan support of the bill will also help move the legislation forward in that regard. Looking Ahead Foster children in the United States are often some of the most overlooked special needs groups in the country. Whether or not they have an identifiable disability (and many of them do) the lack of stability provided in the home makes them especially vulnerable to truancy, dropping and dropping out as well as behavioral problems and substance abuse. These children are not responsible for their circumstances and, in many ways, need the protection that open communication between the government agencies responsible for their care provides.
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