Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Foster Care and School Mobility

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Foster Care and School Mobility

Article excerpt

Foster children face numerous obstacles to academic achievement compared to their non-foster peers. In addition to having low educational attainment, they may also suffer from high rates of school mobility and experience long delays when transferring schools. Sources of these transfers and delays include numerous residential movements and a lack of coordination between child welfare and school professionals. Potential solutions currently being explored include reduced residential mobility, better communication between child welfare and school professionals on the frontline, and integrated child welfare and educational databases.

There are over one-half million children in foster care homes in the United States. Most children enter foster care because of abuse or neglect, many live in poverty, and a disproportionate percentage are Black (48%) or Hispanic (15%; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2002a). The majority of these children also reside in large urban areas, where school systems are often overcrowded and poorly funded (DHHS, 2002b). These disadvantaged backgrounds and troubled schools, combined with the trauma of being removed from home and the stigma of being in foster care, pose significant barriers to educational success for many foster children (Finkelstein, Wamsley, & Miranda, 2002; Jackson, 1994). Research indicates that, compared to the general student population, foster children have lower high school graduation rates, fewer years of schooling, lower levels of participation in college, and higher rates of participation in special education programs (for a review of this literature, see McDonald, Allen, Westerfelt, & Piliavin, 1996).1

FOSTER CARE AND SCHOOL MOBILITY

Foster children may also be more likely to transfer schools and experience longer delays during these transfers than their non-foster peers, though there is limited research in this area, in part because many child welfare systems do not systematically monitor the school outcomes of children in care. Departing from this trend, New York City has begun to track the school mobility, attendance rates, and test scores of children involved in the child welfare and school systems. Through a unique data sharing agreement between the commissioners of New York City's child welfare agency, the Administration for Children's Services (ACS), and the Department of Education, ACS has developed a database that contains school information on cohorts of foster care entrants. The latest figures indicate that approximately 57% of children entering foster care between 1995 and 1999 transferred schools for noneducational reasons (other than graduating from the school, for example) in the year following foster care placement (Conger & Rebeck, 2001). This study also revealed differences in the school transfer rates of children according to their experiences in care. School transfers were more likely to occur for children who transferred to new foster care homes, ran away from their foster homes, and remained in care longer than other children. Given the link between residence and school placement2 and foster children's residential instability-leaving home for foster care, moving to new placements while in care, and perhaps returning home upon leaving care-it is not surprising that some foster children experience frequent school transfers.

School transfers are problematic for most children, often requiring large adjustments to new classmates, teachers, and curricula, as well as repeated or missed lessons. Yet, there is little agreement on whether these adjustments harm school performance. Most studies indicate that switching schools is associated with lower performance on standardized exams, measures of classroom adjustment, grades, and parent reports of student achievement (e.g., Felner, Primavera, & Cauce, 1981; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2001; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1994). A few studies, however, have found positive or no effects of school transfers on performance (e. …

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