Achievement Rates of Foster Children in Public Schools

Achievment Rates of Foster Children in Schools 

By Jacob Morris




What Does it Mean to be in Foster Care?




The U.S. foster care system was designed to temporarily protect and nurture children whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them, until those parents become stronger, healthier and in a position to provide a safe loving home for their children. Sadly,  too many children spend years in “the system,” moving from foster home to group home to foster home, and from one school district to another. They may never feel stable or connected, lacking the family and community ties that are so critical to young adults learning to make their own way in the world. 



How the Foster Care System Impacts Young People


Children enter foster care because their families are experiencing difficulties so severe that they cannot take care of them. These difficulties can include parental:

  • Abuse
  • Neglect or abandonment
  • Physical or mental illness
  • Addiction
  • Incarceration
  • Death

Many foster youth experience intense and sustained stress growing up. Lack of bonding as an infant or child can cause emotional and psychological trauma that is very difficult to overcome. Recent findings from the science of brain development show that such prolonged stress biologically alters the structure of the growing brain, affecting physical and emotional well-being.


Facing and Overcoming Challenges

In many ways, the challenges foster youth face are the same all young people face at some point in their lives: 

Who am I? Why am I here?What do I want to do? How do I get there? 

Youth with stable families have a solid foundation to help them answer such questions. Foster youth also have a foundation  – a shaky foundation of loss, despair, confusion, fear, and loneliness.

As a community we cannot fix their broken foundation, but we can help raise them to firm ground with understanding support based on proven best practices, nonjudgmental guidance and critical resources.

We must communicate with these youth in ways that they will hear and understand, so that they can take the appropriate next steps towards a brighter future.

Life in  Foster Care: the Challenges

  • A bachelor’s degree is not the only answer.
    • Give youth  the opportunity to discover their strengths and passions and formulate obtainable goals.
    • Present them with realistic options including certificate programs, degree programs and job training.
    • Teach them the true relationship between education and a career.
  • Getting into a program is not enough.
    • Navigating the post-secondary education system to stay on track academically and financially and to benefit from available opportunities is key.
    • Discipline and classroom skills produce complete coursework and timely progression towards a chosen diploma.
  • Money makes the world go ‘round.
    • Foster youth must learn to plan and budget.
    • It is critical that they understand the realities of borrowing money (student loans and credit cards) and what it can mean to their future.
  • As graduates, they need to compete on the same level as their non-foster care peers. 
    • They need to learn how to network
    • They must present themselves professionally in an adult setting.

The solution is support – adequate, appropriate, caring support.  

  • Support must start early.
    • States and local communities dictate the mechanics of foster care — whether and how often children are moved from placement-to-placement and school-to-school.
    • By middle or high school, however, social workers, case managers, school counselors and mentors should be working with youth to tease out their interests, talents and dreams.
  • Supportive adults must understand the science of brain development and the effects of trauma.
    • Adults need to reach young people on their own level, in ways that make sense to them and have meaning in their lives.
    • They need to impart a sense of the importance of making good decisions — not just for now but for the future — to youth facing daily struggles.
  • Supportive adults must understand the realities of college. 
    • Adults must understand college and course loads from the perspectives of starry-eyed, eager, but often ill-prepared adolescents.
    • We must not set youth up for failure by encouraging them to take classes for which they do not have the background.
  • Supportive adults must help students understand the realities of financial aid. 
    • Young people can amass crippling student loan debt that may be impossible to pay off, especially without a good job post-graduation.
    • To avoid massive student loan debt, it is critical that foster youth understand the difference between a grant and a loan, and  learn to budget.
  • Support needs to be consistent and longterm.
    • Foster youth don’t just need help choosing a good career path, getting into a college or training program, or making their first visit to the financial aid office.
    • In order to succeed in all of these endeavors and more, they need the same consistent, long-term caring support as any other young adult.




















Foster Youth and Education

  • Foster youth who experience more placements are nearly 15% less likely to complete high school when compared to their peers
  • 24% of foster youth struggle with disabilities while in school[3]
  • Across the United States, 52% of foster youth attend schools that rank in the lowest 30 percent
  • Only 50% will receive a high school diploma
  • Only 10% of former foster youth will attend college and, of that 10%, only 3% will graduate


Educational outcomes of ex-foster children in the Northwest Alumni Study:

  • 56% completed high school compared to 82% of the general population, although an additional 29% of former foster children received a G.E.D. compared to an additional 5% of the general population.
  • 42.7% completed some education beyond high school.
  • 20.6% completed any degree or certificate beyond high school
  • 16.1% completed a vocational degree; 21.9% for those over 25.
  • 1.8% complete a bachelor's degree; 2.7% for over 25, the completion rate for the general population in the same age group is 24%, a sizable difference.


Statistics After Leaving Foster Care

  • 50% of former foster youth will be homeless during their first two years after exiting foster care
  • 60% of girls become pregnant within a few years after leaving the foster care system
  • 50% of youth leaving foster care are unemployed
  • 33% receive public assistance


Persoanl Interview with a Foster Parent:


My parents decided to become foster parents when I was a freshman in high school.  We have seen many different children come in and out of our house, all of which have diffeerent stories of success and failures in regards to their educataionl success level and their lives after emancipating or leaving foster care. The following is a short interview that I conducted with my mother to gain some insight and first hand accounts of her foster childrens feelings and attitudes toward schooling.  


How long have you and your husband been foster parents?

We’ve been foster parents for 8 years.  We take in teen boys who are at risk.  Typically this age is not placed in a foster home, rather they go to group homes or lock down facilities based on their history with the law.  Foster homes typically take babies and younger children, so this age group is basically underserved by the system due to lack of foster homes willing to  take in teens.


What made you want to become foster parents?


Being raised in a family of givers, I always wanted to foster children.  One of my sons was in special classes due to a cognitive delay and I realized that others in his classes were not cognitively delayed, but just underprivileged and this prompted me towards becoming a foster parent.  My husband eventually came on board and was willing to take in teens.


How many foster kids have you had? Have all of them attended some form of schooling?  Have any of them graduated?


In total, we’ve had 16 foster kids.  School is critical in our home.  They must be willing to go to school and do their best.  It is their number one goal in our home.  8 have graduated.  6 are still in school and one ran off before he graduated and one dropped out after returning home..  


Do your foster kids seem to be excited about a new school/place? Or do they seem a little nervous or scared.  
All children placed in foster care are nervous and anxious about what will happen in a new setting. Some have cried.  Some are quiet and yet others act out to see what their limits are. We attempt to make them at ease.   We maintain contact with birth families to help ease the transition when applicable.  I don’t think that school crosses their minds at first when they are being presented with a new living arrangement.  We talk up the school and explain that the school is their key to success and that the people are the school are there for them.  We make it clear that going to school and participating in school is critical to their success.

For those who have came and have left, what are some of the accomplishments you’ve seen them achieve?  What are some of the negatives you’ve seen after graduation or emancipation?  


 Each child is unique as we also take in teens with special needs.  One child had severe mental health issues and though he graduated, is still living in care with a family who adopted him.  He is learning to work now.  The child that ran off before graduating was living on the streets bumming meals and has not been heard from in about a year.   Another child returned home on reunification and dropped out of school.  He is doing ok and trying to get his GED now.  He works and is trying to become responsible.  We stay in touch.  One attempted college but was dismissed.  He is doing well for himself  now and has moved to Colorado.  We hear from him now and then.  One graduated, but struggles to maintain a job and did not seek additional education.  He struggles daily and still calls for support.  One attended a welding school and completed his studies.  He is in business for himself and does well most of the time.  Another graduated and works and does well. One is completed additional education at Butler Tech and will emancipate in May 2017.  He has the skill set to work and do well living on his own.    

Are there any traits or common themes you’ve seen between the foster children you’ve had and their schooling?  Do you see any repeating problems or praises that these children encounter in their education?  


 Most seem a bit anxious about school and do not feel they can be successful. Several seem to buck the teachers and administrators.  It helps that I stay in touch with the teachers and helps the kids learn that they must be accountable.  Talawanda has been phenomenal at working with the at risk kids that we enroll.  Most actually enjoy school once they get over the initial fear.  They like most teachers and administrators.  The fact that I had two sons graduate there is a good model for the boys.  Most try to do well and enjoy Talawanda once they have been attending.

What do you think it takes to motivate foster children to want to pursue their education, trade, etc.?  


 They need to feel confident in themselves.  They need to feel they have a voice.  Often they feel entitlement and need to understand that though they cannot change others (bio parents, etc) and their past, they can be accountable for who they are now and overcome their challenges.  Most are very resilient.  A caring teacher or administrator can make a huge difference.  High expectations help as well.  Some students underperform because no one expects them to do well.  This is detrimental.  Occasionally an administrator or teacher will feel sorry for the student and I have found this is detrimental the child’s sense of ownership as well.  

How do schools react when you enroll your foster kids into their district? Has there been conflict? Acceptance? Etc…   


 Talawanda has been great.  I knew this after working with them with my own sons.  We moved to this area because Talawanda had a heart and that makes a difference. Expecting the same from my foster sons as all other children and giving them a voice is important. The only problems we have encountered is when an administrator or teach feels sorry for the kid and gives them special privileges or money are food.  This creates a feeling that the child is felt sorry for and they continue to ask for handouts (in my experience).  Very detrimental. We have actually been investigated for child abuse because of what some of our foster children have said to school officials to gain their attention.  It’s tricky, because they are held to report these things. But sometimes a disgruntled child will create negative attention - called sabotaging - in order to seek attention or get things by having people feel sorry for them.  That is why it is important to maintain a relationship with home and school and stay involved in your foster kids lives, just like I would with my own kids.   

In your experience, do you believe that foster children have just as much of a chance or opportunity to be successful compared with students who are not in foster care?


I think they do have a chance like many others do.  Honestly there are children not in foster care who struggle with dysfunctional family lives as well.  The key is making them know that they can do it by hard work.  Often we have to overcome things like stealing, lying and low self esteem, but it can be accomplished.  It is critical that they feel accepted and that they feel they can overcome the past with a good education and hard work.  Handouts are detrimental to these teens.  A good education strives to make them feel they can accomplish tasks and move forward. 


Resources and Websites

This link is to the website for an organization that has information about foster kids, and is an organizaiton that offers funding for school as well as other programs and services for foster students.

This is a link to a website that influences the importance of community and to the safety and success of students, families, and the communities in which they live.  It is full of helpful resources and information.

This link is to an organization based out of San Diego, California, who offers programs in support of foster children.

This is a link to the U.S. Department of Educations website, from which I obtained some of my data.