Better Communication Between Systems Means Better Outcomes for Kids
For the vast majority of kids in the US, school is a healthy, stable event in their every-day lives. Consistent school attendance allows children the opportunity to learn and socialize with their peers. Until now, children in foster care or the juvenile justice system were often denied that opportunity not because of behavioral or academic concerns, but because agency staff did not have timely access to essential educational records. The Uninterrupted Scholars Act, signed into law by President Obama on January 14, 2013, corrected that.
The Uninterrupted Scholars Act is a new amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA. Originally, FERPA was written to protect parents' control over their children's student records. But for children in foster care or other out-of-home placements, the law became a barrier to timely access to school records by child welfare agencies. Under FERPA, social workers had to jump through legal hoops to access a student' s educational records, either trying to track down the parent or appear before a judge to obtain permission to access student records. This meant that children who changed foster care placements had to repeat courses they'd taken before, or missed courses they needed to graduate, which made educational achievement more difficult.
With the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, Congress has amended FERPA to allow child welfare agencies access to foster students' school records. The new legislation will allow social workers real-time access to attendance information, grades, and disciplinary action records, which will assist them in helping kids get what they need to succeed in school.
NCCD joined fellow members of the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education in support of the Act. The National Working Group recognizes that collaboration is the key to achieving practice, policy, and cultural changes that support educational stability and achievement for children and youth in care.
Timely access to educational records is only one of the barriers to educational achievement that children in the child welfare system face. Multiple studies have indicated that children in foster care often lack a knowledgeable, consistent educational advocate. Foster parents, social workers, and judges who are entrusted with the welfare of children in foster care too often lack the training and awareness to provide needed educational advocacy. A contributing factor has been a lack of effective communication between the professionals, including educational personnel, who serve the children and their families. (For more information about this and other national foster care educational statistics, see "Educational Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster and Out-of-Home Care," a fact sheet written by the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education.)
NCCD promotes best practices to achieve better educational outcomes for children and youth in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems by encouraging cross-agency collaboration with specific educational outcomes in mind. Our experience has led us to value cross-agency communication with a focus on measuring and improving educational outcomes such as student retention (e.g., staying in the same school the entire school year) as well as being enrolled in the same school year after year, attendance, grade promotion-based academic criteria, credits earned, graduation rates, and post-secondary education. NCCD has also been involved in measuring educational outcomes and supporting better decision making through data in schools for 14 years.
NCCD supports inter-agency collaboration to identify what works with this population of students. When professionals in different child-serving systems work together with a focus on improving student outcomes, the likelihood of students crossing over from foster care into the juvenile justice system or from juvenile justice into the adult correctional system will decrease. The positive impact will be academically competent children who become successful adults.
One of our current projects is the Delinquency Prevention Pilot Project in Los Angeles County. The project includes a delinquency risk assessment tool as well as policies and procedures that promote collaborative practices among professionals, including educational personnel, to provide evidence-based preventive services needed by each young person. NCCD plans to conduct a program evaluation of this pilot to verify the value of meaningful collaboration with outcome data.
Susan Gramling is a Senior Program Specialist at NCCD.