How do jurisdictions ensure that youth in care receive the academic credits they have earned when they move?
One major challenge for youth in foster care is the high rate of school mobility, both when they are initially removed from home and when they change living placements while in care. When youth in care move schools, they often experience difficulties in transferring course credits. Even within the same state, schools in different districts can offer different classes, employ different methods of calculating full and partial course credits, and require students to take different types of core classes to graduate. Thus, when youth in care switch schools, they often cannot obtain full or partial credit for the coursework they completed at previous schools. Even when youth in care obtain credit for courses they took at previous schools, these credits may not count toward core graduation requirements, instead counting only as electives.
Addressing the educational needs of youth in care and ensuring prompt and full credit for previous coursework is important for a number of reasons. Achieving success in school is necessary for children’s lifelong employment and economic trajectories. All children in foster care deserve positive educational opportunities and experiences to achieve their full potential. Addressing the educational needs of children in care can also help strengthen placement stability and permanency outcomes. When children are on track educationally, attend school regularly, and do not have school problems, they can often return home more quickly and are more likely to find permanent foster or adoptive families.1,2
Enacted in October 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (Fostering Connections) requires that, among other important school stability provisions, “the State agency and local educational agencies . . . provide immediate and appropriate enrollment in a new school, with all of the educational records of the child provided to the school.”3 Under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, school districts are now also responsible for ensuring the educational stability of all students in foster care, including the immediate enrollment in school and transfer of school records when a child changes schools.
Taken together, these two pieces of federal legislation emphasize the shared responsibility of educational and child welfare agencies in ensuring that the educational needs of children in foster care are being met promptly. A number of states have gone further than the federal legislation, passing laws pertaining to school stability and completion, such as requiring credit transfer policies at the local level.
The following jurisdictions have passed statewide policies to ensure that youth in foster care are awarded credit for all work completed, so they can stay on track for high school graduation:
California Assembly Bill 490 (AB 490) requires public school districts to accept “full or partial coursework” completed by a student while attending a public school, juvenile court school, or nonpublic, nonsectarian school or agency. AB 490 is silent on a specific method for calculating partial credits, but some school districts in California have developed their own. For example, Fresno Unified School District calculates credits based on “seat time,” which is defined as the number of hours a student successfully completes in a particular course.
Recognizing the need for a statewide, uniform partial credit calculation tool, the California Child Welfare Council adopted a partial credit model policy in September 2013. This policy was developed by the California Department of Education, California Department of Social Services, California School Boards Association, California County Welfare Directors Association, several members of the California Legislature, school districts, child welfare agencies, and foster youth advocates. This group developed a Partial Credit Policy Manual that provides comprehensive information to ensure foster youth are awarded credit for all work completed so they can stay on track for high school graduation. It provides a partial credit calculation formula, explanations of the policy’s provisions, and implementation tools for use by school personnel and social workers.
Maine Public Law Chapter 451 provides special protections for specific groups of highly mobile students, including foster youth and homeless students. When such a student is placed temporarily in a new school, the law requires that the student, the student’s guardian, and staff at the student’s previous and new schools collaborate on the development of a “school work recognition plan.” The plan outlines how the student will complete coursework and earn credit to meet the state’s educational standards, as well as any diploma requirements applicable to secondary students. By requiring communication between staff at the student’s previous and new schools regarding the student’s path to graduation, Chapter 451 promotes the resolution of credit transfer problems and other school completion challenges that might arise from different course requirements and credit systems at the student’s previous and new schools.
South Carolina’s Education Bill of Rights for Children in Foster Care (S.C. Code 59-38-10) requires that each school district accepts full or partial course work satisfactorily completed by a child in foster care while attending a public school, nonpublic school, or nonsectarian school in accordance with state and district policies or regulations for credit. Each school district shall ensure that when a decision to change the foster home placement of a child is made by the court or the Department of Social Services and the child must change schools, the grades and credits of that child must be calculated as of the date the child left school, and the child’s grades must not be lowered as a result of these circumstances.
Section 25.007 of the Texas Education Code requires the Texas Education Authority to assist the transition from one school to another of students in foster care by developing procedures for awarding credit for course work, including electives, completed by a student in foster care while enrolled at another school.
In 2017, the Washington Legislature passed SB 5241, which allows school districts to waive courses and give partial credit to students who have withdrawn from school due to homelessness or who change school districts after being moved to a different foster parent. In addition, Washington’s Graduation Success program, offered by Treehouse, works with youth in care attending middle and high school to create individualized plans that help them achieve academic success. Graduation Success monitors students’ academics, behavior, and attendance while connecting students with academic resources such as tutoring, college counseling, and career preparation. Graduation Success also works with students facing obstacles common among youth in care, such as transitioning between schools, retrieving course credit, and addressing special education.
Best practice guidance
According to the American Bar Association’s Legal Center for Foster Care and Education4, states should consider the following strategies to ensure that students in foster care receive all of their school credits and are on a timely path to high school graduation:
- Develop policies and procedures to address partial credit calculation and graduation requirements for highly mobile students, including children in out-of-home care.
- Identify specific methods for calculating credits and graduation requirements, preferably through enactment of statewide policies.
- Require state boards of education to create detailed guidelines for determining partial credits and graduation requirements for highly mobile students.
- Create simple methods for calculations, to ensure successful implementation at the school level.
- Involve multiple stakeholders in the development and implementation of new policy and procedures.
- Involve youth in policy creation and advocacy, as they have first-hand knowledge of barriers to school completion, including difficulties in transferring credits, and can also be powerful advocates to assist with the passage of important policies.
- Partner with advocates for other highly mobile students to maximize attention to these shared issues and increase the interest and attention from schools to the issue.
The following table provides additional manuals, tools, and other resources to support credit retrieval for youth in foster care:
American Bar Association (ABA) Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, Blueprint for Change: Education Success for Children in Foster Care (2014)
This Blueprint offers eight goals and 56 corresponding benchmarks to serve as a framework or checklist for direct case advocacy and system reform. Leaders should use the Blueprint for Change framework to identify a jurisdiction’s strengths and areas for improvement.
ABA Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care (2014)
This 20-page fact sheet summarizes research and data related to the education of children in foster care, and provides national examples of promising practices and policies to address a wide range of factors influencing disparities in education outcomes.
California Health and Human Services, Partial Credit Model Policy for Improving the Educational Outcomes for Foster Youth (2014)
This policy manual provides comprehensive information to ensure foster youth are awarded credit for all work completed, so they can stay on track for high school graduation. It provides a partial credit calculation formula, explanations of the policy’s provisions, and implementation tools for use by school personnel and social workers.
National Conference of State Legislatures, Foster Care Bill of Rights (2016)
This webpage provides access to the 14 states’ Bill of Rights for Children in Foster Care. These bills are designed to inform foster children and foster parents of their rights within the child welfare system, including why they are in foster care and how the process works. Some of them specifically name credit transfer as an educational right for children in foster care.
U.S. Department of Education, Non-Regulatory Guidance: Ensuring Educational Stability for Children in Foster Care (2016)
This guidance sends a strong message to schools and districts that the needs of children in foster care must be addressed, and that schools and districts must immediately begin conversations about their shared responsibility to support the school stability and success of students in foster care.
1 Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2014)). Sustaining momentum: Improving educational stability for youth in foster care. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/resources/sustaining-momentum
2 Kelly, K. (2015). Courtroom educational advocacy for children in foster care. American Bar Association, Children’s Rights Litigation, January 15, 2015. Retrieved from http://apps.americanbar.org/litigation/committees/childrights/content/articles/winter2015-0115-courtroom-educational-advocacy.html
3 H.R. 6893 (110th): Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.
4 American Bar Association and Casey Family Programs, Legal Center for Foster Care and Education [Issue brief]. (2008). Questions and answers: Credit transfer and school completion. Retrieved from American Bar Association website: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/child/education/QA_2_Credits_FINAL.authcheckdam.pdf