Blueprint for Change: Strategies for Improving Educational Outcomes for Children in Foster Care

Blueprint for Change: Strategies for Improving Educational Outcomes for Children in Foster Care

May 6, 2013 | Kristin Kelly, American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law

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Kristin Kelly, JD, works at the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law in the areas of child welfare, implementation of federal legislation, and court improvement. She focuses her time on the educational needs of children in care as well as improving outcomes for older youth in and transitioning out of care. She has authored numerous publications, advocates for policy and practice change, and provides training and technical assistance around the country.

Kristin Kelly, JD, works at the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law in the areas of child welfare, implementation of federal legislation, and court improvement. She focuses her time on the educational needs of children in care as well as improving outcomes for older youth in and transitioning out of care. She has authored numerous publications, advocates for policy and practice change, and provides training and technical assistance around the country.

What are the educational outcomes of children in foster care?

It is well-documented that youth in foster care are among the most educationally at risk of all student populations. They experience lower academic achievement, lower standardized test scores, higher rates of grade retention, and higher dropout rates than their peers who are not in foster care.[1]  Based on a review of studies conducted between 1995 and 2005, one report estimated that about half of foster youth complete high school by age 18 compared to 70% of youth in the general population.[2]  Other studies show that 75% of children in foster care are working below grade level, 35% are in special education, and as few as 11% attend college.[3]  Some of the specific barriers facing youth in foster care include high rates of school mobility (changing schools), delays in school enrollment, inappropriate school placements, lack of remedial support, failure to transfer full course credits, and difficulties accessing special education services.[4]

How can individuals and systems better support students in foster care?

Advocating for a foster child’s educational needs is critical to ensuring his or her educational success. But what does that mean and where can you start? The Blueprint for Change is a detailed framework that includes eight goals and corresponding benchmarks (or subgoals) for children and youth in foster care to help ensure their educational success. In order to meet the educational needs of children in foster care, the following goals should be met.

  • Youth are entitled to remain in their same school when feasible;
  • Youth are guaranteed seamless transitions between schools and school districts when school moves occur;
  • Young children enter school ready to learn;
  • Youth have the opportunity and support to fully participate in all aspects of the school experience;
  • Youth have supports to prevent school dropout, truancy, and disciplinary actions;
  • Youth are involved and engaged in all aspects of their education and educational planning and are empowered to be advocates for their education needs and pursuits;
  • Each youth has an adult who is invested in his or her education during and after his or her time in out-of-home care; and
  • Youth have supports to enter into, and complete, post-secondary education.

The idea for the Blueprint for Change framework originated among members of the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, a group facilitated by the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education through the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The National Working Group on Foster Care and Education is a group of 24 national organizations, including NCCD, who are invested in improving educational outcomes for children in foster care. These organizations wanted to create a common agenda for all stakeholders that could then be tailored to a specific group’s needs. The Legal Center for Foster Care and Education authored the publication in 2007 and has updated it with examples from around the country of programs, policies, and practices that align with the framework. These examples are accessible as part of the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education’s searchable database.

The target audience for the Blueprint for Change is anyone who touches the life of a child in foster care and anyone who can help with the child’s education goals and pursuits. This includes judges, attorneys and advocates, biological and foster parents, youth, child welfare administrators and caseworkers, educators, and legislators.

The Blueprint for Change can be used in a variety of ways. First, it provides information so that direct case advocates can enhance educational opportunities and achievement for children in foster care. For example, a caseworker or child’s attorney could use the Blueprint for Change as a checklist or guide to help identify issues that affect a particular child and to ensure that all routes are being pursued to obtain necessary education. The Blueprint for Change is also designed to guide system-reform efforts by agency and court administrators or other community leaders. For example, a child welfare agency administrator charged with collaborating with the local education agency to better serve children involved with both systems can use the Blueprint for Change as a guide for initial conversations or to create an agenda to review how a jurisdiction is addressing each goal and benchmark.

Where can I find more information?

The Legal Center for Foster Care and Education is a national technical assistance resource and information clearinghouse on legal and policy matters affecting the education of children in the foster care system. It supports direct education advocacy for children in foster care and promotes federal, state, and local laws and policies addressing their education needs. Please visit the website, join the listserv to stay up-to-date with new information and materials, or send an email with questions or comments.

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[1] National Working Group on Foster Care and Education. (2011). Education is the lifeline for youth in foster care. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://www.fostercareandeducation.org/portals/0/dmx/2012/08/file_20120829_140902_sAMYaA_0.pdf

[2] Wolanin, T. R. (2005). Higher education opportunities for foster youth: A primer for policymakers. Washington, DC: The Institute for Higher Education Policy.

[3] Burley, M. (2009). Foster care to college partnership: Evaluation of education outcomes for foster youth. Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Retrieved December 13, 2010, from http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/09-12-3901.pdf

[4] National Working Group on Foster Care and Education. (2011). Education is the lifeline for youth in foster care. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://www.fostercareandeducation.org/portals/0/dmx/2012/08/file_20120829_140902_sAMYaA_0.pdf