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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 23, 2010
Back to School, Back to Instability: New Study Shows Foster Children Struggle in Math, English and Other Standardized Tests
Bipartisan Group of Hill Leaders and DC ‘Real Housewife’ Stacie Scott Turner Call for Change, Equal Opportunity
WASHINGTON, DC — As families engage in familiar back-to-school rituals, early new data shows that the educational playing field is not level for children in foster care, whose academic careers are often impacted by multiple school relocations. Foster youth persistently score lower than their peers in all educational measures. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and Fostering Media Connections (FMC) today released preliminary findings from a pilot program conducted by the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (Cal-PASS) which indicate that foster youth in four counties in California are less likely than their closely matched peers and the general student population to achieve proficiency in English and math at all grade levels.
Sample preliminary results found that one in 10 foster youth are proficient in math by the 11th grade; just over two in 10 foster youth will be proficient in English by the 11th grade. The full findings of the Cal-PASS pilot project will be released this winter. In reviewing the preliminary results of this study and others like it, Senators Mary Landrieu and Chuck Grassley, Representatives Jim McDermott and Michele Bachmann, and former foster child turned reality TV personality Stacie Scott Turner called on Governors, their fellow Members of Congress and the Administration to take immediate action to reverse this disturbing trend.
The compelling testimony of two former youth helped to put a face on the reality the numbers represent. Sokhom Mao was placed in a stable environment, protected by a 2004 California law that requires that youth in care have the chance to stay in the same school despite a change in placement. “While in foster care, it was very important to not change schools while I was changing placements. That stability allowed me to graduate from high school successfully and helped me retain my entire high school course curriculum. That landed me in San Francisco State University, where I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice.” Conversely, Christina Miranda told of attending 10 different schools, four different schools in high school alone. “I remember moving a lot and that was pretty painful. I had the realization that I wasn’t a normal student with a normal life. I remember feeling like there was no reason to try because I knew I was going to leave anyway.”
Former foster child and star of Bravo’s Real Housewives of DC Stacie Scott Turner shared her story and those of the children she counsels through Extra-Ordinary Life, a program for girls in foster care. “Many people don’t understand what foster children face: an unstable home, lack of parental influence and moving from place to place makes focusing on school five times as difficult. When we can ensure foster children are supported and nurtured and can focus on education we will start to see results and level the playing field between them and a general population that often takes their stability and education for granted.”
“While lower educational outcomes always signal a need for reform, what makes these numbers even more disturbing is we know they do not accurately reflect these youth’s academic potential,” said Kathleen Strottman, Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. “The fact that they can perform at all, in light of the constant changes in school and other trauma in their lives, is alone a testament to their ability.”
On average, foster children move to new foster homes and into new schools one to two times per year,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), co-chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and Senate Caucus on Foster Youth. “I have met youth who have attended over 10 high schools in four years. Research has shown each move can set students back as many as six months academically, and leads to increased dropout rates. Fortunately, this is a problem that has a solution. Building upon the Fostering Connections to Success Act, which calls for an increased focus on school stability, Congressional advocates of foster youth have drafted several pieces of legislation mandating that state and local education agencies work in coordination with child welfare agencies to eliminate enrollment delays and difficulties in transferring course credits. Senator Franken’s Fostering Success in Education Act, in particular, is a great example of legislation that would ensure that both education and child welfare entities take responsibility for the educational outcomes of youth in care.”
“One of the primary goals of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth is to get these kids involved in shaping the policy that affects them. We’ve heard firsthand from foster youth how hard it is to stay in the same school. A foster youth might get a new placement that’s a few miles from his current school, yet have to switch schools because of school district rules. New schools don’t always accept paperwork from the old school. Congress needs to look at whatever can be done to ease the burden on these kids and help them make healthy, lasting connections. And we’ll continue to hear from the kids themselves as we move forward on policy,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
“For children who have been separated from their families and brought into foster care, the need for stability is critical. Teachers, coaches, and classmates can provide comfort and a sense of continuity for foster care youth, making it imperative that every effort is made to keep these children in their school of origin. The upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is an opportunity to make educational stability a reality by ensuring federal education law includes the parallel protections to the child welfare protections enacted in Fostering Connections,” said Congressman Jim McDermott, (D-Wash.), sponsor of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.
“As a foster parent of 23 children, I understand the unique challenges foster children face. Many of them have endured difficult situations and face uncertainty at every turn. Stability can be found for these children through a daily routine, friends at school, and teachers who are familiar with their individual needs. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan School Choice for Foster Kids Act which would allow foster parents to send any foster child to his or her original school through education vouchers from the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. Our nation’s foster children must be given an opportunity to succeed in spite of the hardships they experience,” said Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
“I hope the Cal-PASS study will help us stay focused on the need for education and child welfare systems to work side by side to improve educational outcomes for children in foster care. Together we can ensure that hundreds of thousands of children in foster care have the same opportunity for a stable, secure education as their classmates and friends,” said Molly McGrath
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (www.ccainstitute.org) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that strives to be an objective, educational resource for information critical to advancing the efforts of federal policymakers on behalf of children in need of homes. CCAI is available on Twitter (http://twitter.com/ccainstitute), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ccainstitute), YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/ccainstitute), and our blog (https://ccainstitute.wordpress.com/).