New guide offers LEAs best practices to improve foster youth outcomes

A new publication released this month from the Alliance for Children’s Rights shares the findings from a multiyear working group of California districts focused on improving educational outcomes for foster youth. “Best Practices Guide for Developing a District System to Improve Education Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care” includes step-by-step guidance for creating district-wide systems to consistently implement the education rights of youth in foster care, featuring relevant laws, tools, equity and trauma considerations, and data collection tips.

Foster youth in California have the poorest student outcomes of any student group. According to the California Department of Education, 58.2 percent of youth in foster care graduated in 2019–20 compared to 84.3 percent of students overall; 24 percent of youth in foster care met Smarter Balanced English language art standards compared to 51 percent of students overall; and just 15 percent of youth in foster care met the math standards compared to 40 percent of the general student population.

Recognizing the severity of this issue, the Alliance for Children’s Rights partnered with six Southern California school districts — Alhambra Unified School District, Azusa USD, Bonita USD, Baldwin Park USD, Long Beach USD, Pomona USD and West Covina USD — to implement the Foster Youth Education Toolkit, and identify and collectively problem solve every day barriers to meeting  the  education  needs  of  youth  in  foster  care. The toolkit provides comprehensive information on the education rights of foster youth along with step-by-step procedures and easy-to-use implementation tools to help districts engage in best practices and write thoughtful and effective Local Control and Accountability Plans for educating foster youth. It is also designed to give school district staff the tools to implement an education right for an individual student.

The goal of the Best Practices Guide is to help local educational agencies create a system and practice to consistently implement an education right for all its students in foster care  (e.g., system to identify, calculate, and issue credits to all youth in care who earn them while attending school in the LEA).

The Best Practices Guide covers the following topics:

  • Identifying and designating youth in foster care in your Student Information System
    • The first step in providing services and support to students in foster care is knowing who they are.
  • Improving school stability
    • Students in foster care move schools an average of eight times while in care, and can lose up to six months with each move. Youth in foster care have a right to remain in their school of origin following a home placement change, unless their Education Rights Holder determines it is in their best interest to change schools.
  • Immediate enrollment and educational placement in the least restrictive setting for youth in foster care
    • Youth in foster care cannot be forced to attend a continuation school, adult school, independent study program or other alternative education site, even if they are credit deficient, have poor grades or behavioral problems. Specific circumstances such as expulsion may apply.
  • Issuing partial credits to youth in foster care
    • This is a key equity factor when students in foster care must leave a school midyear and helps them stay on track for graduation.
  • Assembly Bill 167/216
    • This law states that foster youth who transfer high schools after their second year may graduate by completing minimum state graduation requirements if, at the time of transfer, they cannot reasonably complete additional local school district requirements
      within four years of high school. An LEA s required to certify a foster care student as eligible for this graduation option within 30 days of enrolling in the new school.
  • Using local data to monitor education outcomes for youth in foster care
    • The guide recommends LEAs collect and utilize the data points provided in a continuous cycle of improvement to ensure district policies and practices are leading to improved education outcomes for youth in foster care.