Educational Experiences of Children in Out-of-Home Care
Cheryl Smithgall, Robert Matthew Gladden, Eboni Howard, Robert M. Goerge, Mark E. Courtney2004
Schools are one of the primary institutions shaping the development of children, and successful school experiences increase the likelihood of their successful transition to adulthood. For youth in out-of-home care, the state serves in loco parentis or in place of the parents, and so is another institution shaping the development and bearing responsibility for the educational needs of children in care. This report presents findings from a mixed-method study assessing the educational performance and experiences of youth in out-of-home care. Data from Chapin Hall's Integrated Database on Child and Family Services in Illinois were used to track the educational performance, school mobility, and participation in special education of CPS students in foster care. In addition, qualitative interviews with caseworkers, foster parents, and school staff throughout Illinois provided valuable insights into the context and processes underlying the educational experiences of students in care. Although not all students in out-of-home care are struggling academically, significant proportions of these students have low achievement test scores, are being retained, or are dropping out of school before the end of the twelfth grade. There is strong evidence to suggest that a portion of the academic problems of students in care stems from experiences prior to their entry into care. However, the academic challenges faced by these students are compounded by the fact that they are clustered in lower-performing schools, and finally, factors such as school mobility and poor communication among school staff, caseworkers, and foster parents are further impeding these students' educational progress. The fact that nearly three-quarters of these students in care have been in care for 2 or more years underscores the need, responsibility, and opportunity to address the educational needs of these children.