Landmark Foster Youth Study Reveals Low Educational Outcomes

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An unprecedented study just released by researchers from the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Social Services Research (CSSR) confirms that foster youth are among the most vulnerable students, with high rates of school failure, high-school drop-out and low enrollment in college.

The Foster Youth Transitions study is an important step in furthering knowledge about foster youth, high school and college outcomes, and highlights important characteristics that shape foster youth education performance.

An unprecedented study just released by researchers from the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Social Services Research (CSSR) and with funding from the Stuart Foundation, validates that students in foster care struggle even more with academic success in comparison to peers with similar disadvantages. The report confirms that foster youth are among the most vulnerable students, with high rates of school failure, high-school drop-out and low enrollment in college. The new study is the first time longitudinal data on foster youth education outcomes have been compared to other at-risk student populations tracking more than 11,000 high school students over five school years.

According to Brad Phillips, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of IEBC, the study, Foster Youth Transitions, a study of California foster youth high school and college educational outcomes, and the Stuart Foundation report on it, At Greater Risk, California Foster Youth and the Path from High School to College, find that even when compared with other economically disadvantaged students, “foster youth are less likely to complete high school, enroll in community college, or remain in community college for a second year.” The study and the follow-up report reveal disturbing statistics about the educational outcomes of the California foster youth studied, including:

  •     45% of foster youth completed high school compared with 53% of similarly disadvantaged youth not in foster care and 79% of the general student population;
  •     43% of foster youth enrolled in community college compared with 46% of similarly disadvantaged youth not in foster care and 59% of the general student population;
  •     41% of the foster youth who enrolled in college remained enrolled in community college for a second year compared with 48% of similarly disadvantaged youth not in foster care and 62% of the general student population.

Phillips noted, “The Foster Youth Transitions study is an important step in furthering knowledge about foster youth, high school and college outcomes, and highlights important characteristics that shape foster youth education performance.” He stressed that, “Being able to combine historically separate databases was instrumental in the success of this study.”

In 2010 AB12, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act was signed into law, providing support for foster youth until the age of 21. The IEBC Foster Youth Transitions study provides California educators, social service policymakers, and legislators with critical information about education outcomes for foster children and youth in California. To achieve this unprecedented effort, IEBC partnered with the UC Berkeley CSSR to analyze high school and college outcomes among California foster youth. They looked at data from public education databases and the state’s child welfare information system to identify foster youth’s education records and analyse their secondary and postsecondary outcomes in relation to their experiences in foster care. IEBC sampled approximately 11,300 foster youth who were in foster care at some point during grades 9–11 in any of the academic years from 2002–03 through 2006–07 and for whom California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) data in English-Language arts and math were available. Complying with state and federal laws regarding privacy and confidentiality, IEBC and CSSR were able to develop a unique database that combined K–12 education data from school districts and public postsecondary institutions across California with data from the state’s child welfare system.

When former foster youth succeed, they have overcome many barriers not of their making. Studies such as Foster Youth Transitions reveal steps that can be taken to reduce the barriers and support accomplishment.

Phillips stated, “Other states would do well to use this model to explore the same combination of social services and education data to improve the knowledge base concerning foster youth, the challenges facing them, and the opportunities to address them.”

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Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC)

Institute for Evidence-Based Change is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving academic success for all students. IEBC is nationally recognized for their leadership and innovative approaches in working with educators and education stakeholders to access, organize and use the data already at their disposal, as well as data from other systems and institutions. IEBC is equally skilled in forming collaborative solutions that lead to improved student success. The organization provides hands-on leadership and facilitation skills in consensus-building conversations with a wide range of stakeholders. Their process leads to in-depth conversations that are geared toward increasing understanding and generating solutions that ultimately result in greater student success. Learn more about IEBC at http://www.iebcnow.org.

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Elizabeth Marshall

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