Bill seeks sharing of homeless, foster care youths’ data
Children who are in foster care or homeless are far less likely to consistently attend school, graduate or go on to college.
A bill moving through the Indiana General Assembly would seek to change that by requiring that data about those students be shared between state education officials and the Indiana Department of Child Services.
The bill, authored by State Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger, also would require an annual state report on educational outcomes of youths who are homeless or in foster care, including graduation rates, the number who receive graduation waivers, the number who earn specific types of diplomas and other information.
“People are starting to see the need (for this data),” DeVon said in a telephone interview. He said the response from other legislators has been positive.
Tiffany McKnatt-Smart, of Dunlap, is a foster parent of seven years and a special education paraprofessional in the Elkhart Community Schools. She sees a need for the bill and for additional support for Indiana foster children and their foster families.
Many foster children come into state care after being removed from traumatic family settings and can’t be expected to immediately achieve at the same standard set for average students, she said.
“We are so test-driven, we are not worried about the whole child. As a result, kids are falling through the cracks,” said McKnatt-Smart, who has served as foster mother for about a dozen children, mostly teen girls.
Teachers are evaluated based on how their students perform on standardized tests, and don’t have the time or training to provide therapy for traumatized children, she said.
“I think it’s going to bring us together a little more,” McKnatt-Smart said of the bill’s goal of sharing data between state agencies.
DeVon said he filed the bill after being contacted by researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Indiana Connected by 25, a nonprofit agency that supports foster care youth as they transition out of the foster care system.
They told him Indiana has inadequate records to show educational results of children in foster care, he said.
The bill’s initial focus on children in foster care has since been expanded to also include homeless youth.
About 129 students currently attending the South Bend Community School Corp. are in foster care placement, said Christine Pochert, SBCSC director of grants and student services. That’s of a total enrollment of about 16,800 students in the district. An official tally will be made at the end of the school year.
Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. had 19 students in foster care enrolled during 2016-2017 and 25 so far this academic year, said Mike Seger, director of safety and student services.
School City of Mishawaka doesn’t yet have a count of foster children attending school in the district this year, but will report an official figure to the state at the end of the school year.
Mishawaka Assistant Superintendent Theodore Stevens has been following the progress of HB 1314 and has mixed feelings about it.
He’s pleased lawmakers are seeking to increase communication between the Department of Education and the Department of Child Services, but he’s concerned about the bill’s requirement that the Department of Education must produce a remediation plan for foster children by June 2019. The bill makes no reference to local school districts being involved in developing the plan.
“How will that remediation plan affect public schools and what we do day to day?” Stevens said.
“This is data we’ve been trying to get for years,” said Brent Kent, president and chief operating officer of Indiana Connected by 25, a nonprofit agency that works with teens and young adults ages 14 to 26 to help them successfully transition from foster care to working and self-sufficient adults.
He’s confident the proposed law would improve educational outcomes for foster children. There already are requirements that educational outcomes be reported by gender and race, and similar data is needed for foster children to make sure their results aren’t hidden, Kent said.
There are about 22,000 Hoosiers ages 14 to 26 who are either current or former foster children — a population approximately the size of the city of LaPorte, Kent said.
The goal is to use the data to close the achievement gap, he said. “What we want to have is the same sort of urgency for foster youth as for other groups (of students),” he said.
The bill is absolutely needed, said Chris Daley, executive director of the Indiana Association of Resources and Child Advocacy. “We simply don’t know enough about the educational challenges foster kids are going through,” he said.
Youth Service Bureau of South Bend provides services and safe shelter for runaways, homeless youths and others in need ages 12 through 18.
Teens who are in foster care or homeless are vulnerable to dropping out of school or being suspended, said Christina McGovern, YSB director of developing and marketing.
Some children without a stable home life stop attending school because of lack of access to bathing or laundry facilities, or adequate clothing, she said.
When a teen houses temporarily with YSB, agency employees contact the South Bend school corporation to make sure the youth is enrolled and has reliable transportation to get to and from school, McGovern said. The agency’s teen shelter can house up to eight teens at a time for up to 21 days, and it shelters about 200 youths a year.
The intent of HB 1314 is to help determine what challenges foster children must overcome to graduate from high school and successfully transition to either college or the job force.
About 50 percent of foster children in the U.S. graduate from high school, and only about 3 percent go on to complete college, according to a report from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.
Indiana in fiscal year 2016 had 29,315 children in foster care, according to the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. That number increased more than 60 percent (from 18,292 children) between 2012 and 2016.