We need political reform in the foster care system

Foster care is a peculiar institution that allows for a minor who cannot return home for whatever reason, to find a home with a government certified caregiver. None of the homes in the system are permanent and, on average, a foster child will move two times during elementary school and four times during middle and high school. Keeping a normal education in such a system is not easy, and due to the constant moving, the student is unable to retain the information and connect it to previous concepts because they do not know what topics they’re missing.  

In fact, out of the approximately 400,000 children in foster care at any given time, only half these children earn their high school diploma, and only one-eighth of those that do go on to earn a college degree. Through many different studies, it has been proven that foster children are at a higher risk for barriers leading to low academic achievement, grade retention, and lower high school graduation rates. There are many factors that cause these barriers, like constantly changing schools, having credits from one school not transfer to the next, homelessness, or a bad foster home environment.

While there are many bills and organizations that can help with bad foster home environments, there are not enough bills and acts to reform the education system in order to cater to education for children in foster care. With such a large number of children in foster care, there needs to be bipartisan reform in order for foster children to receive the education they deserve.

Many professionals in the the social services, such as Peter Bleen from the Child Welfare League of America, lament the flaws of the foster care system because this system is very easily fixable with the right media coverage and the voice of the public. Many bills that garner support from groups such as the CWLA are swept under the carpet due to Congress’ inability to make decisions with a life or death situation and lack of public voice to truly drive the making of legislation into law.

For instance, the most recent—and according to many social workers such as Bleen, potentially most helpful bill—was the Family First Act. This act would have the Department of Health Services “pay the state to deliver 12 months of mental health and substance abuse prevention to prevent a child from entering into foster care.” Many social workers and everyone in the CWLA backed this bill, citing that a major reason for children to be in foster care was because of drug abuse and opiates. They believe that in order to deal with foster care education reform as a whole, things like home life and experiences need to be taken into account.

Programs that are not backed, do not end up getting attention, and therefore don’t receive much funding. These include the Guardians Scholarship program, in which select colleges allow for a special cohort of foster children transitioning out of the system to stay in the major that they wish by helping the children find housing and jobs. These are organizations and groups that need a voice, and need the legislative support from articles like the Family First Act.

Though there have been many acts (No Child Left Behind, Every Student Succeeds Act, etc.) to help foster children, they are not well implemented and do not address their constantly changing environment. There needs to be a bill which states that the child is allowed to stay in one school for the duration of their time in the system. That would mean they would stay in the same elementary school from kindergarten to fifth grade, middle school from sixth to eighth grade, and so on. This would ensure that they have a proper education.

Also, there needs to be transparency within the system. That means a caseworker needs to be readily available to show foster children and their schools the children’s records. This would get rid of the problem of losing credits when transferring from different schools. Another solution is to limit the number of caseworkers  a foster child is allowed to have in order to maintain some stability in the child’s life and provide support when applying for colleges or simply going through life. There also needs to be an act that helps a foster child who has completed their high school education apply and pay for college.

We, and society as a whole, also need to pass certain laws that would address helping potential foster children before they enter the system with bills and acts like the Family First Act.