Study of Foster Youths’ Education Status Finds Many are Facing Hurdles to Success

This report examines the educational status of and services available to older adolescents in foster care in California, both from the viewpoint of the youth themselves and from the viewpoint of the caseworkers who work with them.

What We Did

This report evaluates three specific areas: the educational history and status of older adolescents in care, the perception of how ready these youth are to pursue their educational goals, and the availability and helpfulness of education-related services. It draws on data from two parts of the CalYOUTH study: the Wave 1 youth survey (n = 727 foster youth) and the first child welfare worker survey (n = 235 workers). The adolescents participating in the youth survey were interviewed at an average age of 17.5, and caseworkers were asked to think about a youth on their caseload at age 18.

What We Found

With respect to education status and background, findings from the youth survey and caseworker survey indicate that most youth are connected to school, work, or both. Many youth experience foster care-related events that cause school disruptions, including changing schools multiple times and being out of school for one month or more.

In terms of educational preparedness and the role of extended care, responses from both youth and caseworkers show that educational support is a primary perceived benefit for extended foster care participation. Most youth felt very prepared to pursue their education, whereas most caseworkers indicated that their youth were somewhat prepared. The vast majority of caseworkers said that their youth had a moderate to high need for services to help them attain their educational goals.

Regarding perceptions of education services, only one-third of youth said they received a lot of education services, and most said that their guardians or biological family provided the most help with their education. Fewer than one-third of caseworkers reported that there was a wide range of education services available to foster youth, and only about one-third were satisfied with their collaboration with education systems to meet youths’ goals.

What It Means

The extension of foster care was perceived to give youth extra time to attain their educational goals and delay the loss of formal support and services. Expanding services, training key individuals, and improving coordination between education systems are potential ways to better prepare youth to meet their educational goals.

Although the majority of youth aspire to complete a college degree, more than half are reading below a high school level at age 18, which suggests that youth may underestimate the academic hurdles that lie ahead. Consistent encouragement is important both for motivating youth to finish school and for developing their educational aspirations.

Recommended Citation
Okpych, N. J., Courtney, M. E., & Charles, P. (2015). Youth and caseworker perspectives on older adolescents in California foster care: Youths' education status and services. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
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