Better educational outcomes critical to success for foster youth

Aug 13 2012

By Callie Langford, Originally published in TODO Austin Magazine

Many families are happily preparing for their children’s return to school this year. They may be buying school supplies or a new wardrobe. Perhaps they are even prepping for the big step up to middle or high school this year. It’s an exciting time for many children as they look forward to what a new school year will bring.

For youth in foster care the new school year may look a lot different. Casey Family Programs has reported that 65% of adults who grew up in foster care changed schools seven or more times from kindergarten through their senior year of high school. Many foster youth will be attending a brand new school this August, and there is no guarantee they will be able to stay there even through the fall semester.

In spite of the potential benefits of education for foster youth, the overall results for many of them are still poor. They are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school. National studies show that children in foster care have higher rates of suspension or expulsion and grade repetition. They also have lower standardized test scores and are less likely to graduate than children in the general population. Only 74% of foster youth alumni had graduated high school, in comparison to 84% of people in the general population. The numbers begin to look even more dismal once youth have aged out of foster care at age 18. While 70% of youth who age out of foster care plan to attend college, only around 3% of foster care alumni actually complete a bachelor’s degree.

Fortunately, these challenges have been recognized and are being addressed with action to improve education for children in foster care. The Texas Supreme Court’s Commission on Children, Youth and Families recently released "The Texas Blueprint: Transforming Education Outcomes for Children & Youth in Foster Care." This report is the result of more than 100 court, education and child welfare stakeholders working collaboratively over an 18-month period to build a set of best practices for foster care and education. It includes their recommendations for improving judicial practices, school stability and transitions, school readiness, post-secondary education and many more areas critical to youth in foster care and their educational needs.

Here in Austin, a Travis County Model Court pilot project on educational advocacy will begin this fall to minimize the negative impact that involvement with the child welfare system can have on a youth's education. CASA of Travis County is a key partner in the project, with participating CASA volunteers set to complete specialized training in August that will address special services available for foster children through Austin Independent School District as well as an education checklist. Vital areas of advocacy for CASA will include the quick transfer of children’s records to a new school, making sure all credits transfer and paying attention to children's involvement in extra activities. “Educational advocacy has always been a component of CASA’s work for children in foster care, and with the recent Texas Blueprint report and the upcoming Model Court educational pilot, we are excited to be able to focus more on this specialized advocacy and incorporate these excellent recommendations into our advocacy work,” shares CASA’s Executive Director Laura Wolf.

Education is key to achieving success for all of us, but especially for youth who have experienced trauma and instability in their young lives. Ensuring that foster youth both stay and succeed in school is vital to providing them with greater stability and a healthy outlet in their young lives, as well as ensuring that they grow up to be successful, contributing adults. 

You can read the full Texas Blueprint report at