Earlier this year, we were approached by the Kansas City Star as they were investigating foster care systems across the country. Specifically, they were examining how foster youth who age out of foster care without a permanent placement fare. Based on Foster Success’s work in advancing policies such as SEA 497 focused on improving Medicaid coverage for former foster youth and HB1314, the reporters were eager to share our perspective.
A series of stories, authored by Laura Bauer and Judy Thomas, chronicling more than a year’s worth of research across 12 states, appeared in the Sunday, December 15, issue of the Star.
The Star spent the past year examining the long-term outcomes for kids who age out of foster care. It found that many will end up homeless, jobless and in prison because, in part, they were shortchanged on education. Shuffled from home to home, often sent outside their original school districts, they fall behind early and don’t catch up.
In every pocket of the nation, the graduation rates for foster children are significantly lower than for all other “special population groups,” including homeless students and those with disabilities.
Most years, a little more than half of the country’s foster kids will graduate from high school.
In Indiana, our education outcomes are as bleak as most other states that have reported. Indiana’s graduation rate for foster youth is 64.6%, compared to 88.1% of the general student population. While that’s almost twice as high as states like Oregon’s 35%, it only represents those students who start their senior year of high school. Many students leave school well before their final year. Additionally, of those who graduate, 21% of Indiana’s foster youth do so with a waiver, compared to 8.3% for the general population.
From the Star:
“It’s really hard to fix problems at the terminal end of foster care,” Kent said. “You can only do so much when someone didn’t graduate high school and is reading at a seventh grade level.”
What he discovered, though, was that no one was truly seeing foster children’s struggles in the classroom, their dropout rate, lack of a high school diploma and the road to homelessness they get trapped on.
Kent and others didn’t think the Every Student Succeeds Act went far enough. More information was needed.
“You’re the state, you’re the parent and you have no idea what the graduation rate is for your kids,” he said. “You have no idea what the third grade reading rate is. You don’t know in real time where they are going to school, but you are responsible for the educational decisions. You know nothing.”
Foster Success advocated for HB 1314, which required Indiana schools to report education outcomes for foster youth including standardized test results, graduation rates, and school disciplinary actions foster youth. While the passage of this bill has made Indiana a leader in tracking some of the problems facing foster youth, it has only just started the conversations that will truly result in the kinds of changes needed to truly help foster youth.
This series of stories is available on the Kansas City Star’s website and is a helpful read for anyone wanting to learn more about the challenges that older youth and young adults face as they transition out of foster care. Journalists Laura Bauer and Judy Thomas followed foster youth and leaders of similar organizations for this piece.
Update, January 2019: The Kansas City Star has allowed us to publish all six pieces in their entirety as one downloadable PDF. Download it from our library now [free registration required].