Report: State Must Do More To Help Foster Kids In School

Thousands of foster children in Massachusetts are struggling to succeed in the classroom, according to a study that lays much of the blame on financial constraints and bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Among the recommendations in the report released on Tuesday by state Auditor Suzanne Bump is that state government assume the full cost of educating foster children and work to improve communication with local school officials about the needs of these children, many of whom bounce between school districts and are more prone to absenteeism and discipline.

"Students transitioned into foster care have been traumatized, taken from the homes they have known, and frequently moved during their time in the programs," the authors of the study wrote. "To have any measure of academic success, these vulnerable children require high levels of educational and emotional support.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's administration said it would carefully review the report but added that many of the recommendations contained in the report were already being implemented.

The report cites major challenges facing schools trying to educate foster children, including the costs of transporting students temporarily placed in homes outside the districts where they attend school.

Massachusetts has seen a 20% increase in school-aged children in foster care since 2012, with approximately 6,800 children in foster or state care attending public schools at the end of the last school year. About 45% of students in foster care have special needs that require individualized education plans, according to the study, but state reimbursements fall short of covering the costs imposed on many school districts.

"Too often, the educational success of these students is hindered by a complex bureaucracy and a lack of resources and expertise, and this burden is particularly acute in low-income communities," Bump, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The education of students in foster care is governed by both state and federal laws. But complicated and overlapping rules create confusion among educators, Bump said.

Gaps in communication between the state Department of Children and Families, which oversees foster care placements, and local officials can sometimes leave school districts in the dark for weeks about the movement of the children in and out of system.

"Teachers and administrators ... are committed to meeting the academic needs of students in foster care," said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. "Too often, though, their efforts are hindered by an inadequate system of competing laws, regulations, and funding mechanisms."

The auditor's office, citing statistics provided by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said foster children "are more likely to attend multiple schools, experience chronic absenteeism and significant discipline incidents, and drop out of school, than the general student population."

Baker administration officials said in a statement Tuesday that it issued guidance last year on the strengthening of "collaboration and communication" between state agencies and local school districts. An education bill filed by the governor in January would add $78 million over the next several years for counseling and psychological services for all students, the administration also noted.

This article was originally published on April 23, 2019.



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