After researching the process of becoming a foster parent and digesting the statistical realities facing the youth in our current foster care system, it is safe to say that the current state of affairs is rife with inefficiencies. Most of the issues stem from the fact that agency workers have to play “dual roles” throughout the foster care process. As a result, potential parents are blindsided by the realities of the support they will receive, and what their own generosity will reap in terms improving the life of a child.
With the ultimate goals of increasing the number of foster parents, lowering the barriers to those considering becoming foster parents, and increasing the widespread success of foster youths transitions into society, the system must address certain systemic failures that have existed for quite some time. Under the current system, many foster parents become discouraged that they are really making a difference. Without more effective actions, to make tangible improvements, public perception will remain that those youths involved are inevitably headed down an irreversible path to failure.
Since Assembly Bill 490s inception in January of 2004, and continuing through the 2007 California Foster Youth Education Summit, the identified areas of concern regarding youths in the foster care system have persisted. A major factor that was thought to contribute to poor educational statistics is that foster children are frequently moved from home-to-home and school-to-school. The transitional problems mentioned included misplaced school records and failure to give proper course credit. Also, the learning process was interrupted and ultimately disjointed by these school and home relocations. Despite keeping the “child’s best interests in mind”, these relocations did not necessarily yield the best result.
At the time of the Assembly Bill 490, it was clear that one step in the “best interest of a child” would be to provide them with an “educational liaison” who could help with the educational and school transitions affecting the foster youths. Most of the issues identified with these transitions were not difficult to correct. They simply needed to be addressed in a timely and complete manner.
At the 2007 California Foster Youth Education Summit (CFYES), educational statistics had not improved. 75% of foster students still functioned below their grade level with 83% still being held back by the third grade. Since AB 490 was passed, high school statistics had also not improved with a 46% high school dropout rate with still fewer than 10% of the youths enrolled in college.
What is mystifying is that in the years between AB 490, and this CFYES, the same culprits were identified but evidently had not been addressed sufficiently. “Instability” related to multiple home removals and school changes were again identified. Another hinderance mentioned was a lack of “consistent educational monitoring, intervention, and support”.
Apparently, the suggestion of an “educational liason” mentioned in AB 490 was not effectively put into action. Instead, what was done was to simply continue on the same path of stretching agency workers duties to include that of serving the quasi-role of an “educational liason”. Deliniating a separate “educational liason” was a much needed change that did not occur.
At the 2007 CFYES, additional “systemic issues” were metioned concerning a “lack of clarity between child welfare and educational personnel about shared responsibility for the educational outcomes of the foster youth.” If a youth education summit regarding California’s foster youths cannot show improvement in previously identified educational problems, how can parents new to the foster care system, be expected to succeed when the foster care support structure they are a part of remains flawed?
This lack of clearly defined roles and agency workers continuing to act in “dual roles” appears to be the achilles heel of the foster care system. Agency workers functioning in “dual roles” is prevelant throughout the current recruiting and screening processes of potential foster parents, as well as with the “ongoing education” efforts provided to parents.
Now it is nearly 2011. Is the problem solved? Not quite. With new federal funding available, we are faced with a perfect opportunity to fund an initiative to place “educational liasons” with all of the students in the foster care system. A conscious effort must be made by California agencies to assign an “educational liason” (EL) to each foster child. With an entirely separate role from the other agency workers involved, ELs can monitor students through their entire school careers- elementary, middle, and high school. In coordination with tutors (if necessary) and agency workers, ELs can become familiar with the students academic history, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their family history. As a result, we can ensure that the majority of these school-related transitional issues can be avoided.
Without a reliable support network at schools via the presence of effective and singularly focused educational liasons, the educational survival of California foster youths falls on the doorstep of the foster parents. Parents who are unable to pick up the slack regarding the educational transition of these youths will then subject themselves to the negative fallout that a foster child in their care will be unable to succeed on their own; in both school and their adult lives.
About the Author:
Brian Reed is a student at the University of San Diego School of Law. He is currently taking part in the Children’s Advocacy Policy clinic and is working on issues related to increasing the number of foster parents in California’s foster care system.