Educational Outcomes for Children in Care  

There are consistent and widespread deficits for educational progress or success for our children in out-of-home care.  School age children in foster care commonly experience a number of moves while in out-of-home care.  These changes can significantly impact their school experiences.  Children who change schools frequently make less academic progress than their peers, and each time they change schools they fall farther behind.  These negative effects on academic achievement are also associated with dropping out.

Children who experience frequent school changes may also face challenges in developing and sustaining supportive relationships with teacher or with peers.  Supportive relationships and a positive educational experience can be powerful contributors to the development of resilience and are vital components for healthy development and overall well-being. 

Behavioral problems that children in foster care experience impact their academic success.  Children in foster care experience school suspensions and expulsions at higher rates than non-foster care peers.  It is believed that a failure to address the needs of children in foster care leads to behavioral problems at school.  It is also important to understand the impact of trauma on the lives of our children in care.

Research consistently documents that significant percentages of foster children have special education needs and/or are receiving special educations services.  Research also suggests that children in care who receive special education services tend to change schools more frequently, be placed in more restrictive educational settings, and have poorer quality education plans than their non-foster care peers in special education.  While screening foster youth for special education needs increases those receiving needed services, it is important to focus on those children receiving quality services timely.

Youth in care graduate at relatively low rates as when compared to non-foster care peers.  Studies consistently show that children in foster care tend to experience high levels of grade retention and because of grade retention are more likely to be old for their grade.  This is important because retention and being old for grade are both strong predictors of dropping out of school.  Young people in foster care are less likely to graduate from high school if they experience repeated placement changes. 

Research suggests that college enrollment is more likely when young people are allowed to remain in care until age 21 or receive mentoring services.

Educational Facts from national and multi-states data

Likelihood of being absent from school 2x that of other students

Foster youth who change schools when first entering care 56 – 75%

17-18 year olds in care who have experience 5+ school changes 34%

Likelihood of 17-18 year old foster youth having an out of school suspension 2x that of other students

Likelihood of 17-18 year old foster youth being expelled 3x that of other students

Average reading level of 17-18 year olds in foster care 7th grade

Likelihood of foster youth receiving special education 2.5 - 3.5x that of other students

Foster youth who complete high school by 18 50%

17-18 year old foster youth who want to go to college 84%

Foster youth who graduated from high school who attend college 20%

Former foster youth attain a bachelor’s degree 2 - 9%

We are likely to think about educational achievement of vulnerable children as an issue of the individual child, however, the data above indicates otherwise.  When supported, positive school experiences can help counteract the negative effect of abuse, neglect, and lack of permanency experienced by children and youth in foster care.  A concerted effort by child welfare professionals can lead to significant progress in changing the educational outcomes for children in care.  Advocacy, programs, and interventions can lead to success and influence the deficits above for our children and youth in foster care.