When we look back on our childhoods, many of us have memories that involve our parents. Parental supervision often plays an important role in how successfully a child gets through the educational system. They are the team that tracks our progress at Parent-Teacher conferences. They are the voice of reason when it comes to keeping homework schedules in place and helping with projects that might otherwise be left undone. Inevitably, our educational enforcers are also the people we presented our achievements too with the most pride. Knowing they will be proud of us, we turn to them with accomplishments and good grades. So what happens to the children who don’t have this support system? How do they fare in an educational system that is built on standardized levels of success?
The most recent statistics released by the government put the total number of children in foster care in the United States at around 500,000. While approximately a quarter of those children are placed with extended family members, the remaining group who don’t fall into this category are assigned to non-family residences.
Movement within the foster care system is notoriously sporadic because the issues it’s built on are understandably complex. While nearly half of those listed above will eventually be reunited with their biological families, that still leaves a significant number of children placed in a vulnerable situation. Of the group of children who leave foster care, it is estimated that half are in the system for less than an entire year.
The Foster Care Alumni of America estimates that 20,000 children “graduate” from the foster system each year nation-wide. At age 18, young people who have navigated the tricky waters of the system must make another difficult transition from the care system into the adult world. The national data available on these young adults is concerning. Only 54% of these children earn a high school diploma. Only 2% will go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree or beyond. 51% will experience unemployment during their lifetime. 25% are estimated to be homeless.
When faced with statistics such as these, it is hard not to assume a link doesn’t exist between those coming through the foster care system, and trouble in education. While the variables that contribute to this social issue are vast; there are a few key factors that make the educational experience a challenging endeavor for those children who are filtered through the foster care system.
When life takes unexpected turns in domestic disputes, it is often the children that suffer the most. Children end up in foster care when life at home is not stable enough to maintain. That being said, those young people who are coming into the system are on their way out of unimaginable hardships to begin with.
The difficulty of constant change
While the foster care system is set up specifically to provide some form of stability for children in difficult situations; the system itself often proves to be a rather unstable experience for them. It is not uncommon for children to be moved through multiple foster homes in a short period of time. Unfortunately, every home change usually means a new school as well. The adjustments and fears that come along with beginning life in a new place are only magnified for children who experience them more frequently.
Research shows us that the emotional, physical and social tolls of these transitions can cause delays and problems in learning. Not only are there gap of time that must constantly be made up for with each new school, children are more likely to be initially focused on fitting in socially than achieving academic success.
Expectations and Accountability
While each home change means a new school, it also means a new family. How are children supposed to be held accountable for their education when they don’t have a consistent caregiver? The answer, sadly, is they often don’t. Without permanent adult figures in their lives to encourage them in their school work, children in the foster care system are often left to fend for themselves.
Within the educational system, there may also be a lack of stable encouragement for these kids in particular. When teachers, principals and administrators alike are under the impression that these children will most likely not be at their school for long; there is a tendency to let them slip through the cracks.
They just aren’t equipped to face the social world
All of the changes foster children must face give them a different set of social norms than other children their age have acquired. These are children that live in a world of temporary care. If a child believes that his or her safety, comfort, security and overall lifestyle is not going to last -they are less likely to invest emotionally in social or academic bonds. The consequences of these temporary arrangements can be a child who is more isolated, introspective and is afraid to apply themselves to long-term academic goals. If a child can’t depend on tomorrow, how can they depend on graduation?
While the issues listed above definitely contribute to foster children struggling in the educational system, the system is not without hope. There are many initiatives underway that are taking a closer look at how these situations can be remedied to give children across the board an equal opportunity at a bright future. Some of these include:
These are only a few of the ideas that are being promoted for the welfare of foster children in the educational system. While there is a link between foster care and lower academic success—there is also hope for these children who deserve a chance at a stable and successful life. How do you think the foster care system in the U.S. can work to help children succeed in education?