Educational Equity for Foster and Probation Youth
Children and youth in foster care change schools an average of 8 times while in care, losing up to 6 months of their education with each move. When moving homes, foster and probation youth face many challenges: education records and credits may be lost, there may be delays in enrolling in the new school, or they may be forced to attend ‘alternative’ education settings, such as continuation schools, rather than their local comprehensive school. Although there are protections designed to prevent any of this from occurring, these laws are often unknown or ignored.
Education Rights of Foster and Probation Youth
California law guarantees education protections for foster and probation youth. These laws are found in Assembly Bills 490, 1933, 167, 216, and 379. If your child or youth’s education rights are being violated, you can refer them to the Alliance here. For school districts looking for best practices and tools to implement these laws, learn about our Foster Youth Education Toolkit. For Education Rights Holders, social workers, probation officers, attorneys representing youth in dependency/delinquency courts, or judges, learn about our Court Companion to the Foster Youth Education Toolkit.
Children and youth in foster care or on probation have a right to school stability. This means they can remain or return to any of the following schools, even if their home placement has changed: (1) the school they attended when first removed from their parents; (2) the last school they attended; or (3) any school attended in the last 15 months where the youth feels a connection. Youth can matriculate to the next level (elementary to middle, middle to high school) with their friends for the entire time they are SOO eligible. Elementary and Middle school students can stay at their SOO until the end of the school year when their foster/probation case closes. High school student can stay in their SOO until they graduate, regardless of when their foster/probation case closes. A youth’s Education Rights Holder (ERH) decides whether remaining in their school of origin is in the youth’s best interests. Caregivers have a right to monetary reimbursement from DCFS for driving kids to their SOO. Other transportation options are available to foster/probation youth.
If your child or youth cannot remain at their SOO, they have a right to be immediately enrolled in their new school of residence, even if they don’t have any paperwork or uniforms or anything else normally required to enroll in school. Youth also should not be pushed-out to an alternative school for any reason (e.g., credit deficiency, mid-year enrollment, behavior concerns, juvenile justice involvement) unless the youth’s ERH determines it is in their best interests to attend a different school. Youth have a right to equal participation in all school activities/events (e.g., tutoring, sports, drama) even if they missed sign up or try out deadlines.
High school foster/probation youth, who change schools mid-semester, have a right to partial credits for any course work that they complete. Each district must have its own partial credit calculation formula, specifying how many days of attendance equals how many credits. For California’s Partial Credit Model Policy, see our Foster Youth Education Toolkit.
Foster or probation youth, who transfer schools after completing their 2nd year of high school, who are unable to reasonably complete their new district’s graduation requirements within 4 years of high school, may graduate under the state minimum graduation requirements, if their ERH decides it is in their best interests.
Enforcing Your Education Rights
If you are having trouble enforcing any of these rights, you can: (1) contact the Alliance here for assistance; (2) file a complaint with your school district, see Uniform Complaint Procedures Act Complaint Tool in our Foster Youth Education Toolkit; or (3) contact the AB 490 Foster Youth Liaison at your school district for assistance.
Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline
When a youth’s emotional or behavioral issues are not addressed appropriately at school, they can escalate to the point where they are considered “a problem” for the juvenile justice system to handle instead of the school system. This can start very early, with toddlers being pushed out of preschool programs due to unmet behavioral needs. If left untreated, these toddlers repeat the cycle when they enter kindergarten.
Once in the juvenile justice system, if their needs continue to go unmet, they often spiral deeper into the system. Our goal is to help young people in foster care avoid incarceration, homelessness, and other negative outcomes. By identifying the need for services, we can avoid disciplinary issues and address a youth’s education needs through tutoring, remedial courses, mental health services, special education, and other services. For youth already entering the juvenile justice system, our goal is to carve a path to a more productive future for both themselves and society as a whole.