Among the 415,000 youth in the foster care system nationwide, only 46% will earn a high school diploma or GED, and less than 3% will obtain a bachelor’s degree. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that all students have access to a well-rounded education that will prepare them for college and career. It aims to address achievement gaps among disadvantaged groups of students, including youth in foster care. ESSA includes special protections for youth in foster care that promote their education success, including protections related to collecting and reporting disaggregated data on student outcomes, providing school stability, and fostering cross-agency collaboration. States can leverage ESSA’s key protections for youth in foster care to build on current efforts to understand their needs, promote collaboration between education and child welfare agencies, and improve college and career preparation and success for these young people.
Under ESSA, states must provide disaggregated data on student achievement and graduation rates in yearly state report cards for youth in foster care. Yearly state report cards must include 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rates and, if the state decides, extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rates for youth in foster care. Statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs) can be a powerful tool to measure and track student progress toward college and career readiness, identify achievement gaps, develop early-warning indicators, provide multiple stakeholders access to information, and encourage cross-agency data linkages to better support student success.
Florida has a comprehensive SLDS that links education and workforce data across multiple youth-serving agencies. The Education Data Warehouse (EDW) collects disaggregated data on student performance starting in prekindergarten through college , and the Florida Education & Training Placement Information Program (FETPIP) collects disaggregated data on student performance after exiting the education system or while exploring postsecondary opportunities. The EDW makes it possible to determine key data points that will inform future decisions of key agencies working for youth in foster care. For example, the FETPIP can show the total number of foster care students who are high school graduates and either employed full-time or continuing their education in Florida or out of state 1 year after graduation. This information can be used to guide decisions by child welfare agencies and institutions of higher education to support foster youth transition into college and the workplace.
ESSA’s mandate that states provide disaggregated data on youth in foster care can help promote the college and career readiness of these youth by ensuring that their outcomes are clear and transparent, making it easier to identify achievement gaps. In turn, this enables the development of the supports and interventions necessary to put them on a path to postsecondary success.
Youth in foster care tend to be highly mobile; compared to their peers, they change schools more often and, when changes occur, enrollment can be delayed. These interruptions can have negative consequences on academic achievement and lead to an increased likelihood of dropping out. ESSA states the following:
- Youth placed in foster care must remain in their school of origin unless it is determined that it is not in their best interest to do so.
- A student must enroll immediately in a new school if he or she does not remain in the school of origin, regardless of whether the records required for enrollment are available.
- The new school must immediately request academic and other records from the previous school when a student changes schools.
- Local education agencies (LEAs) must collaborate with state and local child welfare agencies to implement clear, written procedures about how transportation will be provided and funded.
In Louisiana, transportation is provided jointly by the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the school district in which the student is enrolled. DSS is responsible for providing transportation from a child’s residence to a drop-off/pick-up point within the school district determined appropriate by both DSS and the LEA. The school district is then responsible for getting the student from the drop-off/pick-up point to the appropriate school and back again. This strategy enables students to maintain school stability and promotes shared financial responsibility for transportation across two agencies.
ESSA’s school stability provision for youth in foster care helps mitigate the negative effects of mobility and interrupted education, ensuring that these youth have an opportunity to receive an education that will prepare them for college and careers.
In addition to the collaboration required for transportation purposes, ESSA also requires designated state-level and LEA-level points of contact (POC) for child welfare agencies. ESSA specifies that the purpose of the state-level POC is to ensure the effective implementation of ESSA’s foster care provisions. The POC cannot be the same person as the state’s McKinney-Vento coordinator. Like the state-level POC, LEAs must collaborate with the state or local child welfare agency to designate a POC to streamline interagency communication, help implement ESSA, and provide assistance to students if they change schools. Many states are leveraging this opportunity to inform foster youth and start them on pathways to postsecondary education and workforce training. Some states like Colorado are ensuring through increased data sharing that foster youth transition from a K–12 POC to a related support service or provider in higher education.
Colorado has developed cross-agency collaboration to strengthen educational supports and services for students in foster care. Colorado established a data-sharing agreement and launched the Foster Care Education Program, housed in the Department of Education. The program was initially a joint investment, with child welfare, education, and private funding. After the data-sharing agreement was established, its implementation required formalizing the partnerships among state agencies, university researchers, and nonprofit organizations. Each partner has a unique role in informing policy and practice that affect youth in foster care. For example, the child welfare agency conducted an environmental scan and convened a committee to improve educational stability, and the education agency began including foster care outcomes in state legislative reports.
ESSA’s provisions to promote cross-agency collaboration can help promote the college and career readiness of youth in foster care by ensuring that the provisions related to these youth are implemented effectively. This reduces barriers to receiving a well-rounded education and provides the supports needed for postsecondary readiness.
ESSA shines a spotlight on youth in foster care by including key protections to support their educational stability and success. ESSA requires that states collect and report disaggregated data annually, promote school stability, and coordinate efforts between education and child welfare agencies to better support the needs of youth in foster care. These provisions promote college and career readiness for youth in foster care by helping identify issues for targeted intervention, mitigating problems related to interrupted education, and ensuring that systems are working together to protect and support these youth. The provisions give states the tools to help ensure that youth in foster care are on a path to graduate from high school prepared for college and career.