Evidence and Interest Grow for Program Promoting Educational Success for Students in Foster Care

Posted July 28, 2016, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

We’ve known for years that children who do well in school have a much better chance of becoming successful and independent adults than those who fall behind. So it’s especially disturbing that kids in foster care, who already face a host of challenges in their young and vulnerable lives, often struggle mightily in the classroom. Many of those students, for example, change schools at much higher rates than their peers and are often enrolled in the lowest performing schools – with devastating results. Studies show children in foster care underperform every group of students on statewide testing and experience the highest dropout rates.

There’s growing evidence, however, that innovative and collaborative strategies aimed at improving educational outcomes for students in foster care are beginning to take hold across the country. One exciting example is FosterEd, an initiative of the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) that was first launched in Indiana in 2009.

The Casey Foundation has been supporting the development and evaluation of FosterEd since 2012, including funding evidence-building for the Santa Cruz pilot and a recently launched program in New Mexico. The Foundation’s Evidence-Based Practice Group, which seeks to increase evidence of effectiveness of programs that can be implemented at scale by child- and family- serving public agencies to improve child well-being, sees promise in FosterEd as a wise investment of public funding. Ilene Berman, a senior associate at the Foundation, notes that “while FosterEd is still in early stages of building evidence for program effectiveness and positioning for larger scale, the initial outcomes and growing demand from policymakers suggest that more positive educational outcomes for foster youth are in reach.”

Based on the knowledge that progress is made when multiple individuals and agencies work together to boost a child’s academic achievement, FosterEd ensures each young person in its program is assigned an “Education Champion” to promote his or her long-term educational success. The student is also supported by an education team, made up of engaged adults, caregivers, teachers and child welfare caseworkers, that develops an individualized education plan based on the student’s academic strengths and needs and then tracks the results. In addition, the FosterEd program facilitates system-level changes to ensure youth educational outcomes. From the start, FosterEd leadership has been committed to using evidence to design the program and gathering evidence about program effectiveness to inform continuous improvement.

FosterEd has continued to gain significant momentum. In 2013, the program was piloted in Santa Cruz County, California with promising results and introduced at a demonstration site in Pima County, Arizona, the following year. Studies of these pilots found that the vast majority of the 528 youth involved in the program increased their school attendance and reached academic and social development goals.

That progress has paid off. At the request of state and local policy leaders, FosterEd is now being piloted in New Mexico for youth in foster care and under probation supervision. Last year, a bill was passed that increased funding to the California Department of Education Foster Youth Services program that mirrors many of the practices that were piloted in Santa Cruz. In May, Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey signed into legislation a bill to establish and fund the statewide expansion of the program, calling FosterEd “a proven program with best practices.”

Read more about educational stability for youth in foster care in Casey’s 2014 report: “Sustaining Momentum.”

Learn more about the Foundation’s work to build evidence