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Education Pitfalls of the Foster Care System

Tutoring can help address education gaps for students in foster care.

The U.S. foster care system is designed to protect the general welfare of our children.  And it does a pretty good job making sure kids who are removed from their parents are placed in safe homes, receive clothing, and eat regularly. Other aspects of a child’s well-being often become secondary as children are unable to safely return home and experience multiple out-of-home placements.  The interruption of a child’s education when placed in foster care comes with a high price.

In “The Fleecing of Foster Children,” the Children’s Advocacy Institute and its partners details the educational outcomes of children in our foster care system.  Children removed from their homes often become immediately disadvantaged because their education is interrupted.  It can be challenging to find a foster placement in the same school district the child currently attends.  In addition, the removal from their parents care is traumatic.  Children take time to adapt to new schools and foster environments.

The picture is even starker for children who live in more than one foster care placement.  They soon lag several grade levels behind their peers.  Public school systems are already over-burdened and simply do not have the resources to pay special attention to these children.  It is not uncommon for them to completely fall off the radar of teachers.

Less than 3% of foster children actually earn a college degree. Not even half will be employed by the time they are 24 years old.  All of these factors combined mean that adults who were in foster care as youth have disproportionately higher levels of unemployment, arrest, and suicide.  Incredibly, more than one-third of this population will be homeless at some point, often when they age out of the foster care system.

Because education is the foundation of a financially secure future, many state and private foster care agencies are placing more emphasis on the education of children in their care.  To this end, they hire case workers and school liaisons to make sure children are attending school and are being assessed to determine current achievement levels.  Private tutoring services are secured to help close the gap in their learning with the goal of bringing foster care children up to par with their peers.  This is the best way to insure foster children have a fighting chance after graduating from high school.

Education is Key to Success for Foster Children Aging-Out of System

Tutors provide supplemental education students in the foster care system need to successfully transition to adulthood.

The numbers paint a dismal picture for youth aging-out of the foster care system. Less than half will be employed by the time they are 24 years old. Nearly 25% have experienced homelessness since leaving the system. More than 75% of the young women will become pregnant at least once by the time they are 24 while more than 80% of the young men will be arrested by that age. Approximately 60% of the young men are actually convicted of committing a crime. A depressing picture by any account of children placed in a system that is supposed to have their best interests at heart.

Lack of basic education is the primary culprit that prevents former foster youth from succeeding as adults. Regardless of the age at which they are removed from their families and placed in foster care, their education is immediately interrupted. The average foster care child has over three placements throughout their life. Each new placement typically means a school change which translates into additional interruptions of their education. They get further and further behind. Soon they are performing several grades behind their peers.

Academic tutoring provides the support foster youth need to stay in and complete as much school as possible. Having a high school diploma or equivalent provides opportunities such as being able to get a job. The vast majority of youth who age-out of the foster care system before graduating from high school do not continue their education – they are focused on surviving. Resources exist in some communities to help these youth transition to independent living. But in other communities, they are on their own and that is a very scary proposition. They may not have contacts or know of places they can live and simply end up on the street.

A mere 6% of foster youth who age-out of the system earn a college degree by the time they reach 24. They are able to achieve this because they take advantage of the academic supports that are made available to them. Many have mentors who help them through the process. Often these mentors are tutors who assisted them during their high school years. It is not uncommon for a tutor to work with the same foster care students over multiple years. Tutors help youth close their education gaps so they are better prepared if they age-out of the foster care system.

Benefits of Academic Tutoring for Foster Care Students

Tutoring provides much needed academic assistance to children in foster care.

Children placed in foster care have already some kind of trauma whether it is abuse, neglect, or separation from their family. It is estimated that in any given year, nearly 500,000 children will experience a foster placement. Approximately 35% of children in foster care will spend at least two years there with at least one-third in the system for five or more years (U.S. Children’s Bureau 2012).

Positive education experiences can lessen the stress of out-of-home placements and familial separations. Unfortunately, school districts are typically not equipped to deal with the extra needs of foster care students. It is not uncommon for foster care students to have to change schools because of their foster placement. This is yet another way their education is interrupted. It does not take long for them to lag behind their peers. As a result, child welfare agencies turn to tutoring to help get these students back on their academic tracks.

Not only does tutoring benefit foster care students academically, but it rebuilds their confidence and self-esteem. Giving them the skills to control certain aspects of their future is incredibly empowering for these students. A qualified tutor with experience working with foster care students can provide behavior management tips so students can concentrate on their academics. Tutors can help students learn valuable organizational and study skills they can use in different settings.

Introducing yet another adult role model into the student’s life is an additional benefit. As an authority figure, the tutor can have a significant impact on the student. Tutors encourage students to do their very best. Even short periods of one-on-one attention can inspire students to achieve. They want to make their tutors proud. For students who change foster placements, their tutor is often the most consistent presence in their life.

An overarching benefit of academic tutoring is that it has the potential for improving life chances of foster care children. By closing their education gap, tutoring provides the stabilizing force these children need to become successful adults. They have a fighting chance to pursue higher education, get a good job, and raise a family. The alternative is a life rife with hardships including homelessness, extensive unemployment, addiction, and arrests. And this alternative is simply unacceptable.

Foster Care Students Need Improved Educational Opportunities

With quality tutoring, students in foster care have a better chance of succeeding in school.

With more than 500,000 children living in foster care in this country, the need to focus on educational opportunities has never been greater. In addition to increased risks for incarceration, pregnancy, and homelessness, students aging out of the foster care system have a lower chance of gainful employment because of their poor education. Basic reading and math education is required for most entry-level jobs. Unfortunately, as a result of the multiple disruptions to their education, foster care students often do not have the skills needed to achieve positive life outcomes.

Better educational opportunities are needed for several reasons. Foster care students who do well academically have a greater chance of graduating from high school. It is challenging for teachers to focus on the unique needs of these students in the classroom. Fortunately, there are additional ways for foster care students to get the educational skills needed to succeed in life. Intensive tutoring is one of the most effective ways to help students in foster care maintain academic skills as they progress through the foster care system and enter adulthood.

County foster care agencies can partner with organizations like Educational Tutorial Services to ensure children in their care receive additional learning assistance. Students who participate in intensive tutoring programs are better able to meet achievement goals comparable to their peers. Without this type of assistance, students in foster care tend to lag behind several grade levels. Ultimately, this will impact their ability to be productive adults.

Tutoring that provides more than homework assistance can help foster care students prepare for the transition to independent living. Students can learn to be more disciplined and conscientious about the quality of their school work as well as turning assignments in on time. Tutors often serve a quasi-mentor role to students which can prove powerful when they are in foster care. Students thrive on positive feedback and encouragement tutors provide inherently.

As schools continue to struggle with funding issues, students in foster care can still get the support they need with the right tutoring program. Programs designed specifically for these students offer the most benefits. Not only do students in foster care get the assistance they need, but society gets a better citizen in the process which is, after all, a primary goal of our country’s education system.

Common Education Problems for Foster Children

Tutoring can help foster care students struggling in class.

Children placed in foster care often experience trauma as a result of being removed from their families and the problems that caused the removal. It is not uncommon for them to be disinterested in their education as they experience anxiety over their new living arrangements and worry about their siblings or parents. It is up to the adults in a foster care child’s life to make sure he is getting adequate education. The following are typical problems foster children face related to education.

Poor Scores on State Standardized Tests

Most children in the foster care system will experience multiple placements which dramatically disrupts their education. Moving from home to home often results in a lag in the paperwork needed to enroll the child in a new school in a timely fashion. Quickly, this continuous disruption in a child’s life will impact their ability to learn as evidenced by poor test scores. Low test scores can result in a child having to repeat a grade level.

Higher Absenteeism

Students in foster care may feel embarrassed or lack confidence in the classroom if adults do not provide support needed. It is not unusual for foster care students to skip school more frequently than their peers. It is especially prevalent if the student has been required to repeat multiple grade levels. Dropping out of school is not unusual for children in foster care.

Disruptive Behavior

When students do attend school, they may exhibit behavior that is disruptive in the classroom. Students may act out in order to be excused from the class or out of simple frustration. Students who do not have the same academic skills as their peers may be bullied by other students or may feel hopeless of ever catching up to their peers.

Making sure the education problems of students in foster care are sufficiently addressed can be challenging. Public schools may not have the resources needed to provide support. However, the foster care agency that places the student can request funding to provide intensive tutoring support. Tutoring can help improve test scores, motivate students to attend school, and provide encouragement that foster positive behavior in students.

Quality Matters When Tutoring Foster Care Students

The right tutor can help students in foster care bridge learning gaps while building confidence and providing support.

One reason there is a priority need to provide tutoring services to children and youth in foster care is because they often have serious gaps in their education. Between moving from foster home to foster home and changing schools frequently, foster care students typically are so preoccupied with their family situation and their future that it can be extremely difficult for them to concentrate. Worrying about passing a test can seem insignificant when you do not know if you will be in the same school the following day.

While tutoring services can certainly help, it is important to note that not all programs are equal. Specifically, not all tutors are the same. When searching for a tutoring service that will help your student, quality matters. Choosing the first program in the phone book or the first one you find online is a risk that could end up causing more harm than good. And, you want to consider more than just the hourly cost for services. The characteristics you want to look for in a tutoring service or private tutor include:

Always Prepared

Tutors should be able to start the session as soon as the student arrives. After a brief welcome, the tutor should be ready to get down to business. She will ask the student how school is going and review homework assignments. Whatever the learning goal is for that session, the tutor has relevant worksheets and other materials ready to share with the student.

Completely Reliable

It is not uncommon for adults to come and go in the lives of foster care children. A stable adult presence can make all of the difference to a young child or struggling teen. You want a tutor that arrives on time and always keeps her appointments. Unreliable tutors send the wrong message to students who may already need a reason to care about school.

Eternally Positive

Foster care students need to be around adults with positive outlooks on life. Only a tutor that is optimistic can provide the authentic encouragement students need to meet and exceed academic goals. Tutors that have good attitudes serve as role models for students. Students become more confident when they are around confident adults.

Exceptionally Empathetic

There are days when foster care students are more emotional than others. A visit with family members can cause children to act out or be disruptive during the tutoring session. A good tutor cares about the type of day their students are having. An empathetic tutor understands while still requiring students to focus on the lesson at hand.

Every tutoring session should be beneficial to the student. The only way to make sure that happens is if the tutor is knowledgeable, prepared, and passionate. The right tutor can definitely bridge educational gaps experienced by children and youth in the foster care system. Contact us to learn more about tutoring services for foster care students.