U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services Release Joint Guidance on Foster Youth

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The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today released 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 to inform state and local collaboration between educational and child welfare agencies across the nation for the well-being of children in foster care. The guidance is the first the Department of Education is releasing regarding provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act, in the coming weeks and months to help states, districts and schools as the implement the new law. In addition, the Education Department is also releasing 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, the Education Department hosted over 200 meetings with stakeholders from across the country, including parents and teachers, school leaders, state and district officials, tribes, and civil rights groups on a number of issues. The most notable dialogue centered on the equity and excellence goals of ESSA, and how to protect the civil rights of students. The guidance released today has been informed by promising practices from states and districts, as well as input from many and diverse stakeholders consulted during the development of the resource.

“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 U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “After listening to our local partners and stakeholders, working together with the Department of Health and Human Services, 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 and to dramatically improve their educational outcomes and ultimately give them an equal opportunity to succeed in school and beyond in college, career, and life .”

“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. “When it’s in the best interest of a child to stay in that student’s school of origin, then state, federal and local partners should work together to help foster care students improve their chances of success in school and in transitioning to adulthood.”

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.

The guidance released today builds upon a new focus in ESSA on the unique needs of foster youth and will equip local partners with an essential tool for implementing the new foster care provisions in ESSA successfully by December 10, 2016.

“This guidance is the first in a series of resources on the new ESSA law, and is the product of an inclusive stakeholder engagement process that incorporates the views of a broad and diverse group of local and national voices,” said Donald R. Cravins, Jr., senior vice president for policy and executive director at the Washington Bureau, National Urban League. “Bringing all communities impacted by ESSA together during implementation is a critically important step to ensure policies and practices are informed by experience from the ground. By reaching out to all concerned citizens and incorporating their feedback into this guidance, the Administration has set the tone for how the process should move forward with future guidance and regulations to implement ESSA. We are also pleased with today’s release of the U.S. Department of Education letter to states and districts so that they, too, can make every effort to ensure all communities have a seat at the table during ESSA implementation.”

The guidance, which is not binding and doesn’t impose any new requirements beyond those in the law and regulations, provides clarity in the form of detailed frequently asked questions and answers, touching upon the following key features:

  • The importance of the new educational stability requirements;
  • The statutory requirement that a child in foster care remains in his or her original school, if it’s in his or her best interest;
  • Procedures for jointly determining with the child welfare agency which school is in a child’s best interest to attend;
  • Procedures for resolving disputes that may arise over the best interest determination and school placement;
  • Transportation procedures developed jointly to maintain children in foster care in their original schools;
  • The transfer of relevant records;
  • Foster care points of contact for states, districts and child welfare agencies
  • Protecting student data and privacy; and
  • Best practices and suggestions for interagency collaboration on these issues

The guidance in its entirety can be found here.

The Obama Administration remains committed to addressing the challenges of foster youth. 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. Since the passage of the Fostering Connections Act, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have worked together to encourage greater collaboration between educational and child welfare agencies to meet the educational needs of foster youth. In 2011, the Departments held a joint convening focused on the needs of foster youth, and issued two Dear Colleague Letters to remind agencies of the need to collaborate.

Recently, the Education Department 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. The Foster Care Transition Toolkit was designed by the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Labor, and incorporates input from practitioners and current and former foster youth. It was released as a part of National Foster Care Month and in conjunction with the first-ever White House Foster Care & Technology Hackathon.

In addition to the guidance supporting children in foster care, the Education Department is also releasing a letter to states and districts stressing the importance and utility of stakeholder engagement as states and local school districts transition to the ESSA. This letter from Secretary King to state and local leaders is meant to be a starting point for them as they consider how to begin meaningful engagement at the beginning of implementing the new law so that they can design the best possible education systems for students.

The Department recognizes 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. The letter provides suggestions about which stakeholders states and districts should include throughout implementation, recommendations on how to improve stakeholder engagement by removing systemic barriers to participation, and resources to states and districts as they approach the work.

This guidance is the first in a series of guidance documents that will be released on the new provision in the ESSA. In the coming weeks and months, we will also be announcing additional guidance under ESSA for 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.