On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind. Significant changes included with regard to children in foster care include provisions relating to the educational needs of foster children and an early childhood education grant program. Our nation’s foster children need access to high quality early childhood education programs that can help them heal from the trauma they experience, and these provisions provide an opportunity to connect the dots between our education and child welfare systems.
In California, foster children have priority access to state subsidized child care and early education programs. However, foster families still struggle to access these resources. Reasons include a shortage of openings as well as bad timing. State child care programs are almost always full and many have short enrollment windows that may not align with the moment of a child’s placement into foster care. Enrollment is also complicated, and foster families often struggle to navigate the system.
The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act should prompt us to provide foster children with access to high quality early childhood education programs. Further, federal funding for child care for foster children is available through our Title IV-E foster care benefits program, which could help ease the cost burden of ensuring that our foster children gain access to these programs. As California moves forward to implement the goals of the Every Student Succeeds Act, it is critical that we take full advantage of available federal dollars, like Title IV-E, in order to ensure that all foster children have meaningful access to programs. In the short-term, the state needs to solve the timing gap that prevents foster children from using their priority enrollment.