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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

The Impact of Foster Care on Students' Education


Harold Sloke was 12-years-old when he entered South Carolina's foster care system. Not long after that, he ended up repeating ninth grade three times.

“A lot of my caseworkers believed I would never graduate, so they just kept passing me along, and I kept getting into trouble,” Sloke told The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Foster care offers kids temporary living arrangements to improve their current home environment. Sloke grew up in the system, and after attending a dozen different high schools, he eventually graduated.

That’s not an uncommon journey for many kids in foster care. Only half of foster youth complete high school by their 18th birthday, according to data from the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, compared to the  70 percent of kids not in the foster care system who graduate by age 18.

“I probably wouldn’t have graduated,” said Sloke. “And I could have ended up in prison (if my teacher hadn’t intervened).”

Children ages five to 17 make up the largest group of children in foster care, and just under 60 percent of these kids will experience at least two to three living placements, according to the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education.

That can really set back a student's learning. When a move to a new school happens, up to six months of academic progress can be lost, which can make finishing high school a struggle for some students.

In the Midwest, nearly 37 percent of previous foster youth repeated a grade. Many foster care students ultimately make the decision to drop out of high school, especially after class credits sometimes don't easily transfer from school to school.

For those who choose to stay enrolled, the path isn't necessarily a traditional one. Some foster children complete high school after five years, or choose an alternative like a General Educational Development (GED) transcript or diploma.

Here in Ohio, youth age out of the system when they are 18, unless they're adopted or return to their biological family. When foster children are still under that age, each county in Ohio offers support, and foster care placement is an issue typically addressed through private agencies.

While many states, including California and New York, have done recent and extensive research, Ohio’s records on foster care children’s education and enrollment differ county to county.

In attempts to improve the nation's outlook, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act was signed into law by President Obama last January. The act lets foster care organizations look at educational records to better help support foster care youth and prevent educational turbulence.