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May 2004Vol. 5, No. 4Overcoming Educational Barriers for Children in Foster Care

States and localities are beginning to focus on the traditionally poor academic performance of children in foster care and what can be done to mitigate these outcomes. This focus is due, at least in part, to the Federal Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs), which mandate that States ensure children in care receive appropriate services to meet their educational needs. A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) describes this emerging trend, reviews barriers to academic success faced by children in foster care, and identifies promising programs and State initiatives to address the issue.

The NCSL report, Educating Children in Foster Care, notes that some of the causes for poor academic outcomes can be traced to inadequacies in the systems of care responsible for foster children's welfare. Some of these shortcomings include:

  • Lack of coordination or sharing of information between child welfare and school agencies
  • Lack of clarity regarding responsibility for children's academic outcomes
  • Lack of a consistent advocate for each child's educational needs

Results from the CFSR reports provide some promising strategies for overcoming these deficiencies. States showing substantial conformity with the CFSR educational services mandate also have shown some common themes in their programs, including:

  • Case plans that consistently address educational needs
  • A collaborative relationship between the child welfare agency and the school community
  • Advocates who ensure that children receive needed educational services
  • A concerted effort to provide educational stability, even for children whose placements continue to change
  • Minimal disruption in schooling due to transfers and enrollment requirements

The full report can be accessed on the NCSL website at's Note: This link is no longer active, but visit to view the most recent NCSL report State legislation on education.)

Related Item

Children's Bureau Express explored educational outcomes for children in foster care in "Washington State Study Focuses on Educational Attainment of Foster Children" (May 2002).