According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are approximately 420,000 children in foster care in the United States. In Nebraska, there are over 3,000 children in out-of home care, most of which have experienced significant abuse or neglect prior to being removed from their homes. Once in the foster care system, many children and youth are subjected to further trauma due to separation, lack of permanency, and barriers that negatively affect their well-being.
A positive K-12 education has great potential to offset the trauma many of these youth face, and post-secondary education can open many doors for young adults, leading them into economic self-sufficiency, personal fulfillment, and overall increased well-being.
Unfortunately, research indicates that children in foster care are still at a higher risk of dropping out of high school than their non-foster care peers and are also unlikely to attend or graduate from college. According to the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office, the high school graduation rate remains lower than 50 percent for state wards. Nationally, as few as 2-9 percent of former foster youth obtain a bachelor’s degree. This lack of educational success for foster youth can often be a result of inherent challenges in the foster care system, such as high rates of mobility, a lack of permanent resources and support, and social and emotional difficulties.
There have been several efforts at both the state and national level to improve educational outcomes for youth in foster care. The Every Student Succeeds Act placed new requirements on state education agencies to ensure that youth in foster care remain in their school of origin whenever possible, to facilitate transportation to the child’s school of origin, and to allow for immediate enrollment and transfer of records when a school change is necessary. In Nebraska, the Bridge to Independence program has provided many former foster youth the support and opportunities they need to pursue post-secondary education.
Nonetheless, more work needs to be done to change the statistics for youth with foster care experience. Everyone can do their part to help—by offering encouragement or support to a student in foster care, providing resources (such as this transition toolkit), or by advocating for policy and practice improvements that address education barriers and supports needed for these vulnerable students.
Want to hear first-hand stories of the educational struggles faced by youth in foster care? Check out Children’s Rights Fostering the Future Campaign, which includes blog posts, videos, and more from young people and suggestions on how you can help. Look for #FosterMyEducation on social media.