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Improving the Outcomes of Students in Foster Care – Georgetown University Law Center

On May 27, NCYL co-hosted and participated in a convening, “Improving the Outcomes of Students in Foster Care: Spreading Promising Policies and Practices,” at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.  The event – co-hosted by the Legal Center for Foster Care & Education, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and the Children’s Defense Fund – considered how federal policies can help spread promising practices that are being implemented at the state and local levels, and complemented work that NCYL has been involved in around reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The convening included three panels.  The first, which featured FosterEd Director Jesse Hahnel as a speaker, focused on promising practices and continuing challenges in working at the state and local levels to improve the educational outcomes of students in foster care.  Hahnel and his co-panelists – who represented the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission Education Committee, Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education – emphasized the importance of interagency collaboration and strong leadership.  They outlined a number of promising practices being undertaken by states, counties, and school districts across the country, and agreed that more must be done to incentivize state and local agencies to prioritize this work.  These practices include, among other things: ensuring that foster youth are immediately enrolled in school; ensuring that their educational records are transferred between schools in a timely manner; ensuring that foster youth are able remain in their school of origin whenever in their best interest; providing access to transportation; hiring district-based education liaisons to support educational success; allocating resources to train teachers and school staff on trauma-informed practices; sharing data regarding foster youth amongst state and local child welfare and education agencies; and disaggregating educational outcomes, such as attendance, test scores, and GPA, based on foster youth status.

The second panel featured several federal officials and focused on policy levers that can be utilized to this end.  Speakers included representatives of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the US. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, and the Children’s Defense Fund.  They acknowledged the important role that federal policy and federal officials can play in advancing this issue, and discussed several mechanisms for spreading best practices, including legislation, regulation, and discretionary grants.

The final panel explored the effects of trauma on the educational outcomes of girls in foster care.  It spotlighted the work of a psychotherapist and a youth development coach, both from UCAN Counseling and Youth Development Services.  They highlighted the unique challenges that girls in care face related to sexual and relationship abuse, pregnancy, and parenting, and emphasized the importance of trauma-informed school systems in serving these students.

Recommendations that emerged from the convening included the following: meaningfully include foster youthin the reauthorization of the ESEA; meaningfully include foster youth in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; use targeted discretionary federal grants to incentivize state and local agencies to collaborate to improve the educational outcomes of foster youth; convene partners from multiple states to share strategies and lessons learned; provide technical assistance to help states implement promising practices; and issue administrative guidance to clarify and reinforce the scope of collaboration and accountability among education and child welfare agencies.

A video of the convening is available at https://vimeo.com/129088273 .

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