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May 2012Vol. 13 No. 4Educational Stability for Youth in Care

Former and current youth in foster care tend to lag behind their peers in educational achievement. One recent study found that youth with foster care experience were more than three times as likely not to receive a high school diploma or GED.1 To help promote the educational stability of youth, the Children's Bureau funded Child Welfare – Education System Collaborations to Increase the Educational Stability of Youth grants in 2011. These are 17-month infrastructure-building grants to support collaborations between child welfare and education systems to increase the educational stability of children, ages 10–17, in or at risk of entering the child welfare system.

The Siouxland Human Investment Partnership (SHIP) is one of 10 awardees under this grant cluster. SHIP is implementing the Collaboration of Agencies for Permanency and Stability (CAPS) project, which serves youth ages 13 and older in residential foster care within two counties in Iowa, Woodbury and Pottawattamie. The primary focus of the project is creating electronic academic records so that they can be shared and utilized across the education, child welfare, and juvenile justice systems.

Iowa is one of eight States that uses the National Transcript Center (NTC) application to electronically collect information on student progress and performance from preschool through grade 12. The Iowa education system uses the NTC application to generate official transcripts for students. The application captures an assortment of education information, including current and previous grades, courses completed, courses in which the student is enrolled, and even subject matter that has been covered in a particular class (e.g., that a class has progressed through chapter five in a particular textbook). A numbering system allows for easy class comparison across school systems, so educators can determine if transferring students have completed equivalent courses. Additionally, teachers can upload student work to the NTC application.

The CAPS project will use the NTC application to assist the transition of youth in foster care from one school to another. Traditionally, school transcripts often do not reach the youth's new school until 4–6 weeks after the transfer. This puts the student and the new school in a holding pattern because the school cannot properly assess which courses the student should take. The CAPS project is working to allow the education, child welfare, and juvenile justice systems greater access to the system so that they can ensure youths' academic information, including the completed and current coursework, follows them on a timely basis from school to school. The project also hopes to include a component that outlines the youths' remaining graduation requirements so that all parties have a clearer picture of what the student needs to accomplish to graduate.

In addition to helping the education system better assist the youth toward graduation, the CAPS project also allows the child welfare system to better assess the child's well-being, which includes educational needs. Rather than only knowing if a child is safe and enrolled in a school, NTC records allow caseworkers to better determine how a child is faring and progressing in school. This information will assist caseworkers in making case decisions and in discussing the case with supervisors and other systems, such as the courts. The project will begin testing the use of the application for these purposes this summer.

The other components of the CAPS project include:

  • A public awareness campaign targeted toward the education and child welfare systems about the importance of information exchange and other issues affecting youth in foster care. To achieve this, the project held a statewide conference and also maintains a website.
  • A training program for education advocates. The project is training individuals who are connected to the youth and their families, including caseworkers, probation officers, teachers, counselors—even the youth themselves—to help the youth and their families better navigate the education system and move toward graduation.

Jim France, the SHIP Executive Director, recommends that any localities or organizations seeking to implement similar systems should first review what is currently in place. The current systems may have the information and capabilities necessary to meet their needs. Additionally, he stressed the importance of discussing the initiative with people who are directly involved with the youths' education, including school personnel and even youth, "Input from school personnel and the foster youth are critical to maintaining a proper focus for the project: helping transitional youth be successful in obtaining a quality education." 

Many thanks to Jim France, Executive Director of SHIP, for providing information for this article.

  1 Courtney, M. E., Dworsky, A., Lee, J. S., & Raap, M. (2010). Midwest evaluation of adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at ages 23 and 24. Retrieved March 27, 2012, from: (2 MB).