The Departments of Education and the Health and Human Services issue guidance to states, school districts and child welfare agencies on the new provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for supporting children in foster care.
The guidance aims to assist state and local partners in understanding and implementing the new law and support local local collaboration. This is the first DoEd guidance regarding provisions of the ESSA, Additional guidance is forthcoming. In addition, DoEd releases a letter to states and districts stressing the importance and utility of stakeholder engagement as they begin to transition to ESSA.
Over the past several months, DoEd hosted over 200 meetings with stakeholders from across the country, including parents and teachers, school leaders, state and district officials. It centered on the equity and excellence goals of ESSA, and how to protect the civil rights of students. The guidance released tracks promising practices from states and districts, as well as input from many and diverse stakeholders.
“It is our responsibility to protect all students’ right to a high-quality education. Children in foster care are among our most vulnerable students,” said DoEd Secy. John King. “We have made releasing this guidance a priority so that states, school districts and child welfare agencies will have the critical tools needed to ensure educational stability for foster youth.
Of the approximately 400,000 children and youth in foster care, nearly 270,000 children in foster care are school-aged. Data show that foster youth are more likely than their peers to experience a host of barriers that lead to troubling outcomes, including low academic achievement, grade retention and lower high school graduation rates. Children in foster care often face steep challenges to school success, including high rates of mobility. The new protections for children in foster care under ESSA will apply to all children in foster care enrolled in public schools.
“Changing schools is a disruptive experience for any child, but especially for children in foster care who already have to overcome difficult personal life events,” said Mark Greenberg, HHS acting assistant secretary for children and families.
Schools and child welfare agencies must implement the new foster care provisions in ESSA by Dec. 10.
The guidance is interpretive and doesn’t impose any new requirements beyond those in the law and regulations. It provides clarity in the form of detailed frequently asked questions and answers, touching upon the following key features:
For example, a State Education Agency (SEA) must collaborate with the child welfare agency to ensure the educational stability of children in foster care. The SEA must ensure that its school districts implement the Title I educational stability requirements for children in foster care, including ensuring that:
- A child in foster care remains in their school of origin, unless it is determined that remaining in the school of origin is not in that child’s best interest;
- If it is not in the child’s best interest to stay, the child is immediately enrolled in the new school even if the child is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment; and
- That the new (enrolling) school immediately contacts the school of origin to obtain relevant academic and other records.
States must also develop uniform statewide policies and procedures for ensuring educational stability for children in foster care. This is particularly important given the shared agency responsibility for educational stability under Title I and the Fostering Connections Act, and because a single LEA or local child welfare agency will likely have to collaborate with multiple partner agencies in implementing these provisions. Due to the high mobility of children in foster care, state oversight is crucial for consistency across school districts, the guidance said.
The ESSA provisions align closely with those in the Fostering Connections Act of 2008 and require child welfare agencies to work with districts to ensure school stability for children in foster care.
Recently, DoEd released a new toolkit to inspire and support current and former foster youth pursuing college and career opportunities. The Foster Care Transition Toolkit includes tips and resources intended to help foster youth access and navigate social, emotional, educational and skills barriers as they transition into adulthood.
In the guidance, the department recognized that the law’s real world impact on children depends on implementation. A key part of successful implementation is a process for meaningful stakeholder engagement that ensures stakeholders are empowered to provide feedback and inform continuous enhancement of state and local strategies to help prepare all children for success in college and career.
This guidance is the first in a series of guidance documents that will be released on the new provision in the ESSA. Upcoming guidance include: early learners; homeless children and youth; English learners (Title III); preparing, training, and recruiting high quality teachers and principals (Title II); and student support and academic enrichment (Title IV). In addition to guidance on these topics, the department is still reviewing comments and feedback from the field to determine what, if any, additional guidance is a priority for implementation of the law in the 2017-18 school year.
Info: http://goo.gl/iLRHEF (guidance).