Education Access & Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Education Access for Foster Youth

Children in foster care consistently experience exceptionally poor educational outcomes. Less than 50% of foster youth graduate from high school and a mere 3% graduate from college. The reasons for this are clear: research demonstrates that every time a child changes schools, they fall behind up to 6 months in their education, and many foster youth may change schools 10-15 times throughout their K-12 education. Furthermore, many foster children suffer from the emotional fallout of the circumstances that led to placement in foster care, and this further interrupts their educational progress.

Your Foster Child’s Rights May be Violated When:

  • They are refused enrollment in school because you don’t have the right records.
  • Their education records get lost and don’t follow them from school to school.
  • They don’t receive partial credit for course work they have completed before moving to a new school.
  • They aren’t allowed to stay in the same school when their home changes.
  • They are good students who pass all their classes, but still don’t graduate on time.

What Rights Do Children in Foster Care Have?

California law guarantees many special protections for foster children’s education.  Below is a list of CA legislation passed to protect the education rights of foster youth.

Assembly Bill 490 provides foster youth with specific protections for their education. Studies have demonstrated that each time a child changes schools, they may lose up to six months of academic and social growth. This law was passed in the attempt to reduce harm caused by multiple school changes. The law allows for:

  • Children to stay in their school of origin.
  • Immediate enrollment without any of the normally required documentation such as birth certificate, proof of residence or immunization records.
  • Records to be forwarded between schools within 2 days.
  • Right to partial credits.

Children in the foster care system are allowed to stay in the school they started the school year in for the remainder of the school year, even if their home placement changes. They can actually stay in that school and matriculate to the next level (elementary to middle, middle to high school) until they leave care. AB 490/1933 states that when a child moves, it is the Educational Rights Holder’s (ERH) duty to make a decision about whether remaining in their school of origin is in the child’s best interests. DCFS and the school have to work out transportation issues.

All foster youth have a right to partial credits for any course work that they complete. This means that if a foster youth has to leave a school in the middle of a semester, they have a right to 2.5 credits (an entire semester is usually 5 credits) for each class they are currently passing. In September 2013, the Child Welfare Council adopted a Partial Credit Model Policyto ensure that students in foster care receive partial credits. 

AB 167/216 allows for 11th and 12th grade students who have to change schools during their junior or senior year to meet reduced graduation requirements. Whether or not it is appropriate to utilize this law is up to the student’s Education Rights Holder, and the determination should take into consideration whether the student has achieved academic proficiencies. See our information sheet on graduation under AB 167/216.

If you are having trouble enforcing any of these rights, please contact the AB 490 Liaison at your school district. Each school district is required to have such a liaison.


An Innovative Solution

The Alliance for Children’s Rights, working with First Star, established the nation’s first Education-Legal Partnership (ELP), an innovative approach to ensuring that foster youth graduate from high school and move on to higher education. Through the ELP, Alliance education attorneys join First Star’s team to provide participating youth with long-term, comprehensive education advocacy. For more information, click here.

Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline

When a child’s emotional, developmental and behavioral issues are not addressed, the child may come to be seen as a “problem” youth, resulting in teens who are at-risk being pushed out of school and into the juvenile justice system. Our goal is to help young people in foster care avoid incarceration, homelessness, and other negative outcomes by obtaining tutoring, remedial courses, mental health services, special education, and other services to address their needs.

To learn more about our dismantling the school to prison pipeline work, watch this video (go to 3:00).

Learn more: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline FAQs.

Potential Indicators of Disability

  1. Academic delays in reading, writing or math; poor grades; retention/being kept back a year: These may lead a student to become frustrated with school and “act out” to avoid embarrassment or frustration.
  2. Behavior problems at school, including not following the rules or teacher directions, fighting, being disrespectful, being sent home from school early and being suspended. Even for younger students, if issues of defiance of authority begin and there is a history of fetal alcohol exposure, this can indicate a major risk factor for later delinquency involvement.
  3. Social Emotional problems including depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder: If a child is using drugs or alcohol, this may be a form of self-medication for these problems and thus creates a risk factor for getting caught using illegal substances, and also because it indicates a larger emotional problem that needs treatment.
  4. Inattention, disorganization, impulse control problems and/or ADHD: When a child cannot control their actions or think through the consequences, this can lead to manipulation by other students into dangerous behaviors, or inappropriate reactions to the actions of others that lead to serious consequences.
  5. Poor attendance: specifically for older youth, if they have had an undiagnosed learning disability for a long time, they may tune out and stop attending school to avoid embarrassment or frustration. Or, if they have an untreated emotional or behavior disability, they may avoid school because they cannot handle the interactions.
  6. Speech and language deficits: These may lead a student to become frustrated with school and “act out” to avoid embarrassment or frustration.
  7. Problems with handwriting: These may lead a student to become frustrated with school and “act out” to avoid embarrassment or frustration.
  8. Past Police Involvement: If a child has done something in the past at school that has resulted in school personnel calling the police, it is likely that the school will call the police on them again for a similar incident.

Education Resources