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Children & Youth Law Clinic




FOSTER CHILDREN IN TEN FLORIDA COUNTIES Kele Stewart and Vanessa Thorrington







Child Maltreatment and related factors  School Mobility  A Disruptive School Transfer Process  Lack of Collaboration and Communication Between Child Welfare and School Systems  Lack of Education Advocates 

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Liaisons between the Child Welfare and School Systems  Collaboration and Coordination  Information-Sharing  School Stability  School Enrollment  Attendance  Monitoring and Promoting Academic Progress  Surrogate Parents  Interagency Agreement 

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AACWA (as amended in 1989) 7 The Adoptions and Safe Families Act (1997) 7 John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Act (1999)8 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (2008) 8 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act  8 Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as amended by the Uninterrupted Scholars Act of 2013 9 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) 2015 9 Interagency Agreements 10 Roles and Responsibilities of Licensed Caregivers in Florida:  11 Temporary Waiver from School Enrollment Requirements  11 Information Sharing  11 Surrogate Parents  12 Summary of Federal and State Laws Relating to Shared Responsibilities in Education of Children in Foster Care 13


Children & Youth Law Clinic


16 18 20 21 24 25 26 28 28

IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY AND PRACTICE29 Federal Policy  Florida State Policy County Level Policy and Practice

29 29 30


AUTHORS Kele Stewart, Professor and Co-Director University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Law Clinic

Vanessa Thorrington, Ph.D

We are grateful for research assistance from law students Amanda Ferrer, Carmelina Forsizi, Amanda Greenberg, Raven King, Carolyn Kirkland and Lauren Suarez

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Children in foster care are more likely to have problems in school that lead to persistently low academic outcomes. Although Florida did not historically track performance of school-aged children in the dependency system, recent snapshots are consistent with findings across the country that document a significant academic achievement gap between children in foster care and their peers. Children in foster care underperform on measures such as standardized tests and grade promotion. Approximately 50% of children in foster care graduate from high school, compared to 83% in the general population. Only 3% of foster youth graduate from a four-year college. These findings are alarming given that educational attainment is a powerful predictor of economic self-sufficiency and well-being in adulthood. This problem has received recent attention in research, advocacy and policy. Federal and state law has incrementally attempted to address some of the

structural barriers that contribute to the poor outcomes of children in foster care. Florida was one of the first states, back in 2004, to enact legislation requiring school and child welfare systems to collaboratively address the needs of this at-risk group for whom they share responsibility. Since then, similar mandates have been incorporated into federal child welfare and education laws. Yet there is little information about whether these high level policies have translated into meaningful changes in practice to better support the academic needs of children in foster care.

The counties in the study differed in size, school-age population, and geographic location. Florida's privatized child welfare system is run by a lead Community Based Care (CBC) agency in each county. The lead CBC and the School District were asked to identify the employee who serves as the point of contact to the other agency. The researchers interviewed the staff identified by each agency. The participant from the lead CBC is referred to as the CBC Education Liaison, while the person from the School District is referred to as the School Liaison. The report presents findings in several key areas including: the role of liaisons, collaboration and coordination between the systems, policies and practices to decrease school mobility, monitoring and promoting academic progress, information-sharing and the process for appointing surrogate parents. Counties varied significantly in the extent to which

the lead CBC and School District either individually, or together, had instituted targeted practices to address the educational needs of children in foster care. About half of the counties had full-time CBC Education Liaisons and/or School Liaisons who served as the point of contact to the other system, problem-solved to address school barriers for individual children, served as a resource for other stakeholders, and provided information to the court, among other things. In the other counties, the point of contact did not work on foster care education issues fulltime. Participants generally viewed their collaboration as positive, and identified factors that spurred and hindered collaboration. A few counties had promising models where the CBC and School District points of contact worked as an integrated team. On the other hand, there were places where the School District Liaison and CBC Education Liaison could not identify each other by name.

This report contributes to filling that gap by examining county-level policy and practice in 10 Florida counties.

Executive Summary 1

With respect to school stability, participants said it was their agency’s policy to promote school stability, but acknowledged that school changes still frequently occur. They identified lack of foster homes and transportation, and not prioritizing education during the placement change process as key barriers. Several counties shared strategies to address these issues. But most counties did not track the number of school changes or the number of transportation requests that were fulfilled. Without that information, it is difficult to assess the extent to which efforts to reduce school mobility are actually working. In addition, most counties did not have a formal process to determine whether a school change was in a child’s best interests. The ability to exchange information between the two systems and track outcomes is another area participants identified as a challenge. A few counties had established near real-time electronic exchange of school records between the school system and child welfare system. But most counties did not have the technology to do real-time electronic information exchanges. Furthermore, even when CBCs had electronic access to school records, this information was not used to track aggregate outcomes or to identify children who need interventions. This information is critical so that data can inform policies and practices, and front-line staff can intervene to address the needs of individual children. In most places, there was no systematic process to flag children who were having problems in school and take appropriate action. The default is that case managers or caregivers are expected to monitor progress and step in if a child is struggling in school. In counties with active CBC Education Liaisons or School Liaisons,

if the case manager brings it to their attention, then the liaisons may be able to help with some problem solving. And a few counties do an educational review at a specific time – such as after a statewide standardized test or in a specific grade. Without some mechanism to monitor all children, and engage in advocacy and academic support as needed, children will continue to fall through the cracks. It was clear that some Florida counties have devoted resources to the liaison role, their collaborative efforts, and information sharing. As a result of their established relationships, those counties are well positioned to continue to identify and address county-level barriers that interfere with education. This is commendable. The next step for these counties is to translate those system-level efforts into data-driven strategies that lead to improved outcomes for individual children. Others are further behind and have not even begun to devote sufficient resources to inter-agency collaboration and addressing foster care education issues. They can learn from other counties across the state, but there must also be leadership and guidance from the Florida Department of Children and Families and Department of Education. The report provides recommendations at the federal, state and county levels that spotlight promising practices or counter some of the challenges identified by participants. We hope that stakeholders across the state will use this report to learn from neighboring counties, reassess whether state and local agencies sufficiently prioritize the educational needs of children in foster care, and invest in efforts to improve the educational outcomes of these vulnerable children.


THE PROBLEM EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES OF SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN IN OUT-OF-HOME CARE In today’s society, education is critical to selfsufficiency, economic opportunity, and healthy outcomes in adulthood. Children in the dependency system are likely to struggle academically and, without appropriate interventions, those who age out of foster care are woefully unprepared for higher education or independence. Studies consistently show that these children perform worse than their peers on academic achievement measures such as grades, standardized tests, and grade promotion.1 Children in foster care are also more likely to exhibit other behaviors that affect their school success such as absenteeism, suspension or expulsion, and dropping out.2 Evidence suggests that this achievement gap for foster youth exists even after adjusting for socioeconomic status and race.3 A disproportionate number of children in care are also served in special education programs.4 Although Florida did not historically report education data on children in foster care, recent available data is consistent with national trends. Fifty-four percent of children in out-of-home care in Florida, ages 7-18, were at the appropriate grade level in 2015-2016, compared to 79% of children not in the dependency system.5 On state standardized testing during the 2013-2014 school year, children in foster care performed worse, on average, in math and reading compared to the general school population.6 In the same school year, 49% percent of foster youth were behind a grade level, with 13% of them behind by two or more grade levels.7 Thirty-two percent of children in out-of-home care have disabilities, compared to 12% in the general population.8

National estimates are that about 50% of foster youth complete high school by age eighteen.9 A California study found that the state’s 58% graduation rate for grade 12 foster youth was lower than the general graduation rate (84%), and lower than that of low socio-economic status students (79%).10 An alarming one-third to two-thirds of foster youth drop out before completing high school.11 In the 2014-2015 school year, 45% of Florida youth in grade 12 earned a Standard High School Diploma, compared to 76% of the general school population.12 In a survey of Florida’s former foster youth, 52% of 19-yearolds reported having a high school diploma or GED.13 Although some multistate studies of foster youth show high school completion rates on par with the national average, these studies include youth receiving GEDs with those receiving high school diplomas.14 Those who receive a GED often do so past the typical age for high school graduation, putting them behind their cohort of peers in completing secondary education, earning less, and less likely to graduate from college.15 The post-secondary education outcomes for foster youth are also overwhelmingly negative.16 One study estimated that only 20% of foster care alumni who graduated from high school enrolled in college, compared to 60% of non-foster youth who graduated from high school.17 A Government Accountability Office report found that foster youth who attend college are more likely to enroll at public 2-year, rather than a 4-year, college. Former foster youth were also more likely to enroll in a public 2-year college than other low-income youth or the general youth population.18 The Problem 3

Those foster care alumni who do attend college do not graduate at the same rate as their peers, if at all.19 The Midwest evaluation found that by ages 25-27 only 8% of former foster youth reported graduating with a twoor four year degree, compared to 46% of their peers in the general population.20 Similar studies indicate 4-year college graduation rates for foster care alumni between 3 and 11%.21 The implications of these educational discrepancies can be seen in the poor economic and quality of life indicators for these youth in adulthood. Compared to the general population, foster care alumni have higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, and dependence on public assistance.22 National foster care data shows foster care alumni becoming homeless at a rate of 22% after leaving foster care, compared to the average number of homeless people aged 18-24 in the U.S. of 2.6% to 6.8%.23 Additionally, they earn less than other youth; one study found that over one-third of

those foster youth who were working earned an income below the poverty level.24 There is also a high incidence of substance use and mental illness for this population.25 These statistics show that there is still much work to be done to provide a strong education so that foster youth can transition to a healthy future.26 Ensuring that foster youth receive a quality education has the potential to significantly alter these poor life outcomes. Research underscores the multiple economic and social benefits to completing high school and earning a college degree.27 In addition to enhanced employment opportunities and higher earnings, higher education is associated with better health and greater life expectancy.28 One study of foster care alumni demonstrated that higher levels of education increase employment and earnings, while obtaining a post-secondary degree, leads to employment rates and individual incomes similar to young adults in the general population.29

BARRIERS TO SCHOOL SUCCESS While some of these students started falling behind in school before entering care, systemic factors can widen the educational gap.30 Students in foster care are disproportionately from poor and minority communities, where they are more likely to attend under-resourced schools. In addition, the maltreatment that brings children to the attention of child welfare officials, also increases the likelihood that these children will have academic

deficits when they enter care. Institutional barriers in the child welfare system make it difficult to address children’s heightened needs, and may also exacerbate their problems in school. It is important for policymakers and professionals in both the child welfare and school systems to understand these contextual factors and systems-level obstacles in order to ensure that children in foster care have the support they need to do well in school.

There is a well-documented link between maltreatment and poor educational attainment.31 One study found that children with child welfare involvement, regardless of home placement, had lower math and reading scores than the general population, or poor children with no child welfare involvement.32 One researcher aptly sums up the complicated relationship between maltreatment and educational attainment as follows: The extent to which educational outcomes are impacted by childhood maltreatment is the

result of complex and dynamic processes that include the disruption of key developmental processes (e.g. attachment, emotion regulation, sense of agency), the interplay among ecological systems (e.g. families, schools) in which children are embedded, and the bidirectional link between children’s academic success and mental health. These various forces that serve to shape educational outcomes become even more complicated among children who



not only have experienced maltreatment but who have also been removed from the care of their biological parents, because of serious attachment disruptions and often frequent

out-of-home care placements.33Because of this correlation, there is an increased likelihood that children already have academic delays when they enter foster care.

SCHOOL MOBILITY Children in foster care change schools frequently, typically the result of changing homes.34 A child may change schools when first removed from the family home, and may then experience multiple school changes after placement in foster care.35 For example, a 2010 study found that foster care participants had attended, on average, eight schools in their academic career.36 Children who remain in care for a long time and older children are more likely to experience multiple placement and school changes.37 Studies have linked high school mobility rates with poor school performance and lower graduation rates.38 A longitudinal study estimates that each school change lowers the odds of graduating on time by 1219%.39 One study, in which 65% of foster care alumni had experienced seven or more school changes, estimated that youth who averaged one less foster care placement per year were twice as likely to finish high school.40 Behavioral risk factors could confound the link between school mobility and educational


attainment.41There are several possible reasons school mobility is linked to poor educational outcomes. School changes may occur during the middle of the school year, or involve a change to a new school district.42 Schools may use different curriculum, lesson plans, pacing or instructional methods, and when change occurs in the middle of the school year, the child has to catch up and may not receive credit for work already completed.43 There is also an impact on the child’s social and emotional development, as he or she must adjust to a new environment and build relationships with teachers and peers.44 Students are often unable to participate in extracurricular activities, which are important for development and college applications. Researchers also hypothesize that frequent school changes diminish social capital as it relates to education; in this context social capital is “the relationships and interactions among students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and the school community that support educational success in a school.”45

When children change schools, there may be school absences, delays or incorrect transfer of school records, and an interruption in services to children with disabilities. Children may miss school for extended periods of time if the school transfer process is cumbersome, no one is available to enroll the child, or if the new school delays registration to wait for documentation such as immunization records.46 Even if the child is allowed to enroll, delays in the transfer of school records may cause the child to be placed in inappropriate classes. For students in high school, this could steer students off-track for graduation. This problem is particularly acute for children with disabilities, who may not receive appropriate evaluations or special education services. Studies have also documented that, for highly mobile children in foster care, school records are often lost or contain incomplete information.47 The Problem 5

LACK OF COLLABORATION AND COMMUNICATION BETWEEN CHILD WELFARE AND SCHOOL SYSTEMS The lack of coordination and communication between the child welfare system and schools make it difficult for children to have their educational needs met.48 When the various school systems, child welfare agencies, and courts do not share information, no single system has the complete picture necessary to assess and meet the child’s needs.49 School districts may not know which children are in out-of-home care, and may not understand the child’s problems or the role of the child welfare system. Without this information, administrators, guidance counselors, and teachers are unable to offer appropriate support in school.50 At the same time, child welfare officials may have insufficient, outdated, or inaccurate school records which prevent them from making informed decisions about a child’s education.51 It is often unclear who, in either system,

should be contacted about a child’s education. The lack of collaboration between the systems results in duplicative and inconsistent efforts, and a lack of accountability.52Lack of information sharing is a major facet of this problem.53 Both systems cite laws about confidentiality of records as a reason for not sharing information. As discussed below, there have always been ways to legally share information, but recent amendments to federal law have made it even clearer that school records in particular can be shared with the child welfare system. Yet, as this study reports, confidentiality remains a barrier whether real or perceived, and even when it is no longer a concern, technology and other challenges prevent the actual sharing of information.

Another challenge is the lack of a clearly identified decision-maker and advocate for the child in school. The education system is driven by parental advocacy and involvement. For children in foster care, if the biological parents’ rights have been terminated, they no longer have the right to make educational decisions for the child. Before termination of parental rights, it is far less clear what the appropriate rights and responsibilities of the child’s parent are when it comes to education.54 And, as a practical matter, biological parents may not be the primary contact person for the school. There are many other individuals involved with children in the foster care system. These include: caseworkers, foster parents, attorneys, Guardians ad Litem (GAL), and other professionals. Often it is unclear what each professional’s role is with respect to the child’s education.55 One study indicated that both foster parents and caseworkers thought someone else was responsible for the child’s educational needs.56 Moreover, education may not be prioritized, as child welfare professionals focus on other pressing safety, health, and placement concerns. The result is that a child’s education falls through the cracks.

The issue is further complicated for children with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) requires parental consent for evaluations and special education services,57 as well as parental participation in developing a child’s educational plan.58 IDEA specifies that only certain individuals, including biological parents and foster parents, can be considered a parent for children in the special education process.59 It specifically excludes child welfare caseworkers as parental decision-makers.60 Thus, a caseworker may be able to advocate for the child in school, but is not allowed to make special education decisions. There is often confusion as to who should be designated the IDEA decision-maker, which leads to delays in obtaining evaluations, convening IEP meetings or getting the child appropriate services. If the child’s parents no longer have rights, the foster parents choose not to take a role in the child’s education or is a medical foster parent, or if the child is living in a group home, a surrogate parent must be appointed to act as the parent in the child’s education. The process for appointing and training surrogate parents has no defined protocol.



LAW AND POLICY FRAMEWORK There are multiple federal and state laws aimed at addressing the education of children in foster care. This patchwork can be confusing because some laws apply solely to the child welfare system, or to the education

system, while Florida has also adopted state laws requiring both systems to collaborate to support the academic needs of these children. This section provides an overview of these laws.



Over the past 25 years, federal child welfare laws have incrementally added provisions related to education. These federal requirements have, in turn, been incorporated into Chapter 39, Florida’s state dependency law. The three overarching goals for the child welfare system are safety (ensuring that children are protected from abuse, neglect and abandonment), permanency (ensuring that children are quickly

reunified with parents or placed in another permanent home), and well-being (ensuring that all aspects of a child’s health, educational and emotional needs are met). Well-being, a term that refers to all aspects of how the child is doing and their environment, includes consideration of a child’s functioning in school. These are the provisions relating to education included in major federal child welfare legislation:

§§ Requires that the Case Plan include the name and address of the child’s school, the child’s grade level performance, the child’s school record and any other education information the child welfare agency considers relevant.63 A Case Plan is an important planning document in a child welfare case that includes, among other things, the overall

permanency goal for the case and steps to be taken to achieve the goal, current information about the child, and the services and tasks required of each party in the proceeding. It is prepared by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), with input from all parties, and must be approved by the Court.64

§§ Requires that child welfare officials assure that a child’s foster care placement takes into account the appropriateness of the child’s educational setting and the proximity of the foster home to the child’s school. §§ Requires the US Department of Health and Human

Services to develop outcome measures, known as Child and Family Safety Reviews (CFSRs) to assess the performance of state child welfare programs. The education outcome measure on the CFSR assesses “whether children are receiving appropriate services to meet their educational needs.”



Law and Policy Framework 7

JOHN H. CHAFEE FOSTER CARE INDEPENDENCE ACT (1999)66 §§ The Chafee Act provides states with flexible funding to develop independent living programs and services, including support to help youth pursue post-secondary education and employment options.

§§ In 2002, Chafee was amended to establish the Education and Training Voucher to provide financial assistance to youth enrolled in post-secondary education.

§§ States must ensure that every school-aged child receiving federal foster care, adoption or guardianship assistance is enrolled full-time in elementary or secondary school, or has completed secondary school.68 Students may be home-schooled or in an independent school program administered by the district. §§ State child welfare agencies must coordinate with local educational agencies to ensure the child remains in the same school in which he or she is enrolled at the time of the placement, or if the current school is not in the best interest of the child, that the child is immediately enrolled in a new school, with all the educational records provided.69 §§ Allows federal matching dollars to be used for the cost of transporting children to their school of origin at the same reimbursement rate provided for foster care maintenance payments.70

§§ Child welfare officials must develop a written transition plan at least 90 days before a child turns 18 that includes a description of programs and services to support the child’s successful transition to post-secondary education and employment.71 §§ Expands the population eligible for Education and Training vouchers, which provides financial assistance to former foster youth enrolled in higher education, to young people leaving care at 16 or older for kinship guardianship.72 §§ Allows states to extend foster care to age 21 and receive federal IV-E reimbursement, thereby continuing to support a young adult while they are completing high school or attending vocational programs or college.73


FEDERAL EDUCATION LAWS The following federal provisions apply to state and local school systems:

MCKINNEY-VENTO HOMELESS ASSISTANCE ACT 74 §§ The purpose of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is to identify and remove educational barriers for children experiencing homelessness.75 “Homeless children and youth” are defined as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”76 §§ Children “awaiting foster care placement” were included among those eligible for McKinney Vento’s

protections.77 There was debate about the meaning of the “awaiting foster care” language, and differing interpretations on whether children in out-of-home care were covered by McKinney Vento’s provisions.78 States and local districts, including within Florida, varied on whether the protections and services afforded by McKinney Vento applied to children in foster care. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)


put an end to this debate by explicitly stating that McKinney-Vento does not apply to children in foster care.79 §§ The prior version of McKinney-Vento was still in effect during the interview phase of this study. It is, therefore, worth noting some of the key McKinneyVento protections:

»» »»

»» Each State educational agency must ensure that each homeless child has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children. 80 »» Homeless children must have access to the education and other services needed to ensure

»» »»

that they have an opportunity to meet the same challenging state academic achievement standards to which all students are held.81 Every local education agency must designate a McKinney-Vento liaison.82 Students can remain in their school of origin, if it is in their best interest, for the period they are experiencing homelessness until the end of the school year in which they move to permanent housing. The school district must provide transportation to maintain a student in their school of origin.83 Provides funding to implement these provisions, including the McKinney-Vento liaison position and transportation.

FAMILY EDUCATION RIGHTS AND PRIVACY ACT (FERPA), AS AMENDED BY THE UNINTERRUPTED SCHOLARS ACT OF 201384 FERPA generally requires that schools maintain the confidentiality of students’ personally identifiable information from school records, and prevents disclosure by the school to third-parties unless one of FERPA’s exceptions applies. Two exceptions apply in the child welfare context. State education agencies and local school districts may release education records to “an agency caseworker or other representative of a State or local child welfare

agency, or tribal organization . . . who has the right to access a student’s case plan . . . when such agency or organization is legally responsible for the child’s care and protection.”85 Schools may also release education records to any party listed on a court order. Schools do not need to provide notice to parents prior to the release of records pursuant to the court order exception if the parents are already a party in the case.86

ESSA was passed on December 10, 2015, and many of its foster care provisions took effect one year later, on December 10, 2016. Although the Act was not yet in effect during the interviews for this study, its provisions are included here to provide a complete picture of the regulatory framework at the time of publication. ESSA is the first federal education law to include specific responsibilities for educating children in foster care.88

with the state child welfare agency to ensure school stability for youth in care.89 These include assurances that:


§§ Children should be provided with the “significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.” §§ State education agencies must include in their state plans the steps the agency will take to collaborate

»» Foster youth enroll or remain in their school of origin unless a determination is made that it is not in their best interest. »» The determination must be made based on all factors relating to the child’s best interests including consideration of the appropriateness of the current educational setting and the proximity to the school in which the child is enrolled at the time of placement. »» When a determination is made that it is not in a child’s best interests to remain in the school of origin, the child is immediately enrolled in a Law and Policy Framework 9

new school, even if the child is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment.

§§ Local Educational Agencies (LEA) receiving Title I funds must assure that they will collaborate with the state or local child welfare agency to develop and implement procedures for how transportation to maintain foster youth in their school of origin when in their best interests will be provided, arranged and funded.90 These provisions must ensure that: »» Transportation to maintain school stability is provided in a cost-effective manner and in accordance with the provisions of child welfare law that permit the use of certain Title IV-E funds for school stability transportation. »» If there are additional costs incurred in providing transportation to the school of origin, the LEA will provide it if: they are reimbursed by the child welfare agency; the LEA agrees to pay the

cost; or the LEA and the child welfare agency agree to share the costs.91

§§ The State educational agency must designate an employee to serve as the point of contact for child welfare agencies and to oversee implementation of the foster care provisions of ESSA. The point person must be someone other than the state’s McKinneyVento Act Coordinator.92 §§ ESSA removes “awaiting foster care placement” from the definition of “homeless” for purposes of the McKinney-Vento Act. §§ State report cards must include disaggregated information on the graduation rates and academic achievement of children and youth in foster care.93 §§ Any state entity receiving charter school grants under Title IV Part C of the new law must work with charter schools on recruitment and enrollment practices to promote inclusion of all students. This includes eliminating any barriers to enrollment for youth in foster care.

FLORIDA STATE LAWS INTERAGENCY AGREEMENTS94 Florida Statute Section 39.0016 requires DCF and Florida DOE to enter an agreement to provide educational access to children with an open dependency case and facilitate the delivery of educational services to these children.95 The statute provides that the statelevel agreement must require the DOE to access DCF’s Florida Safe Families Network to obtain information about children known to the department. DCF, and by extension the lead Community-Based Care agency in each county, must also enter agreements with local school districts regarding educational services for school-aged children, as well as younger children served by the school district. These interagency agreements must include provisions that impose the following obligations on the DCF:

§§ Continue enrollment in the school of origin if it is in the best interests of the child, with the goal of minimum disruption of education. §§ Notify the school of the name and contact information for the child’s caregiver and case manager. §§ Establish a protocol for the exchange of information about the child, consistent with FERPA. Schools must be provided access to the Departments’ Florida Safe Families Network. §§ Notify schools of case planning for the child throughout the case. The school district may provide information for the plan development or review process. §§ Not show prejudice against caregivers who choose to home school a child in the child welfare system.

§§ Ensure that children are enrolled in school or in the best educational setting.


The interagency agreements must impose the following obligations on local school districts:

§§ Provide the department with information about services generally offered by the district, and identify all educational services that the district believes are reasonably necessary to meet the educational needs of children known to the department. §§ Determine transportation options for students when needed to allow a child to continue enrollment in a school after a change in the child’s home placement. DCF, school board, and DOE must assess the availability of funding for school stability. §§ Provide individualized intervention and educational

plans for students who meet criteria for such interventions to help children maximize their educational goals.

DCF (through its CBC) and local school districts must cooperate in accessing the services necessary to meet the educational needs of a child who has or is suspected of having a disability to receive an appropriate education consistent with IDEA and state laws. This coordination may include: referrals for screening, sharing of evaluations when appropriate, provision of education and related services to avoid duplication or conflicting service plans, appointment of a surrogate parent, and transition planning.


§§ Support the child’s educational success by participating in activities and meetings associated with the child’s school or other educational setting, including Individual Education Plan meetings and meetings with an educational surrogate if one has been appointed, assisting with assignments, supporting tutoring programs, and encouraging the child’s participation in extracurricular activities.96 §§ Maintain educational stability for a child while in out-of-home care by allowing the child to remain

in the school or educational setting that he or she attended before entry into out-of-home care, unless not in the best interest of the child.97 §§ If it is not in the best interest of the child to remain in his or her school upon entry into out-of-home care, the caregiver must work with the case manager, GAL, teachers and guidance counselors, and educational surrogate to determine the best educational setting for the child.98

School districts should assist children in outof-home care in meeting attendance requirements, age requirements, health requirements such as immunizations, and local requirements for education.

These children will receive temporary exemption for 30 school days to obtain the documentation required for enrollment.99

The Department is required to maintain the confidentiality of reports and records in cases of child abuse or neglect, but may disclose this information to the child’s principal or an employee of the local school district who is the designated liaison between the school district and department pursuant to an interagency agreement as required under §39.0016. This information may, in turn, be provided to another school district employee if the principal or liaison deems the

information necessary for the employee to effectively provide educational services to the child.100



Law and Policy Framework 11

SURROGATE PARENTS A Juvenile Court Judge or the School District may appoint a surrogate for educational decision-making and to safeguard the rights of students who have, or are suspected of having, a disability.101 A surrogate parent must be appointed if: (a) after reasonable efforts, no parent can be located; or (b) a court of competent jurisdiction over a child has determined that no person has the authority under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including the parent or parents subject to the dependency action, or that no person has the authority, willingness, or ability to serve as the educational decision-maker for the child without judicial action.102

A surrogate parent must be at least 18 years old and have no personal or professional interest that conflicts with the interests of the student to be represented. The surrogate parent cannot be an employee of the DOE, the local school district, a community-based care provider, the DCF, or any other public or private agency involved in the education or care of the child. This prohibition includes group home staff and therapeutic foster parents. The surrogate parent may be a court-appointed GAL or a relative or non-relative adult who is involved in the child›s life regardless of whether that person has physical custody of the child.103



CHILD WELFARE AGENCIES SCHOOL ENROLLMENT Coordinate to ensure that when a school change is warranted, children in foster care can enroll immediately in the new school, even if the child cannot produce enrollment documents and school records.104 STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES Coordinate in all aspects of the special education process for a child who has or is suspected of having a disability including by, among other things, sharing evaluations where appropriate, ensuring the provision of appropriate education and related services, coordinating services and plans to avoid duplication, engaging in joint transition planning, and ensuring that surrogate parents are appointed where appropriate.105 INTERAGENCY AGREEMENTS Enter agreements to facilitate educational accss and services for children in outof-home care.

SCHOOL STABILITY Collaborate to ensure a child stays in the school in which the child is enrolled at the time of each placement, unless it is not in the best interest of child. Best interests must be determined by all relevant factors including the appropriateness of the current educational setting and the proximity to the current school.106 Collaborate to develop and implement clear written procedures governing how transportation to maintain children in their school of origin will be provided, arranged and funded. These procedures must, among other things, ensure that children in foster care needing transportation to their school of origin will promptly receive transportation in a costeffective manner.

School districts and child welfare agencies must assess the availability of federal, charitable, or grant funding for transportation.107

INFORMATION SHARING Establish a protocol for the exchange of information about the child, consistent with FERPA.108 SURROGATE PARENTS School District or Court must appoint a surrogate parent for a child who has or is suspected of having a disability if, after reasonable efforts, no parent can be located. TRANSITION PLANNING Participate in joint transition planning to ensure that children in out-of-home care meet the requirements of the school district.109 TRAININGS Child welfare agencies must coordinate with the school district on trainings for school and child wlefare staked.110


DESCRIPTION OF THE STUDY This is a qualitative study during which we interviewed child welfare and education officials from 10 counties and analyzed relevant documents. Data collection began with public records requests sent to Florida’s sixty-seven counties. These requests were sent by U.S. mail to a contact at the school board identified as a public records custodian of the agency, or a liaison working with foster care youth and a contact at the Community Based Care provider (CBC) who had been identified as working with the school system in a liaison capacity. The public records requests asked for information regarding:

1. The interagency agreement required by Florida Statute §39.0016, 2. Policies and procedure regarding the education and services for children in out-of-home care, 3. Trainings held for personnel regarding the interagency agreement, 4. Trainings held regarding the education of services for children in out-of-home care, 5. Policies and trainings regarding the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 6. Organizational charts and job descriptions for employees who work as liaisons with the school district or as liaisons to the school district, 7. Information on the amount of time and personnel spent to keep students in their home school, 8. The “Everybody’s a Teacher” program

As information was received from organizations materials were separated by topics listed on the public records request and cataloged. From the 38 counties that responded to the records request, ten were selected for interviews. These counties were based on geographical and population size, rural and urban composition as well as population diversity. Interviews were conducted with personnel in the school system that interfaced most or acted as a liaison with the CBC, and the position in the CBC who

also interfaced most or acted as a liaison with the school system. A total of nineteen interviews were conducted, their length ranged from approximately twentyseven minutes to one hour twenty-five minutes. Each system’s liaison was interviewed separately, except in one county where the CBC liaison and School District Liaison worked together in the same office and asked to be interviewed together. Interview topics derived from the topics outlined in Florida State Chapter 39 and mandated to be included in the Interagency agreement between local school boards and community based care providers. These topics included agency collaboration, points of contact (liaison), student enrollment and withdrawal, student success, student absenteeism, school stability, and training. The interview guide was developed through use of both Patton (2002) and Spradley (1979) to ensure a response driven process.111 All but one interview was audio recorded, these recordings were transcribed and then reviewed while listening to the recording to check for errors. All participants that were recorded consented both verbally and in writing. The interview that was not recorded was due to organizational regulations. Notes were taken by both researchers during the interview and combined into a final product for analysis. The interviews were coded using qualitative methods employing a deductive approach. As the interviews generally followed the interview guide, therefore providing the data topics desired, codes were given prefixes that mirrored the topic. For example, when an interviewee provided information on how they handle bus requests for students the code began with transportation: or when the interviewee explained how they monitor students grades the code would begin with student progress:. The format of the interviews allowed for constant comparisons (Glaser& Strauss, 1967) during the coding process for researchers to reference codes back to the original interview and to other interviews with similar data.112 The researchers used these prefixes to find themes within the topics.


This happened at several stages in the coding, first when about 1/3 of the interviews had been completed the researchers reviewed the data looking for an initial

set of themes. Through stages of building themes codes with prefixes that were too specific were collapsed as part of the deductive process. Description Of The Study 15

FINDINGS LIAISONS BETWEEN THE CHILD WELFARE AND SCHOOL SYSTEMS nnEducation Specialists/Liaisons at Community-Based Care Agencies (CBC) The CBC employee interviewed in all 10 counties was the person who the CBC identified as an education specialist and/or liaison to the school system (hereinafter referred to as CBC Education Liaison). Five of the CBC study participants were full-time Education Liaisons with titles such as Education Specialist, Education Liaison, Education Services Specialist, or Director of Educational Services. In three counties, the study participant was tasked with education-related duties, but that person also had other responsibilities and spent 15%-50% of their time on education issues. At one CBC, the study participant did not devote all of their time to education issues, but supervised others who worked on education full-time. And at one CBC, there was no staff member dedicated to education issues; rather the CBC identified several staff whose job duties encompassed education related roles. CBC Education Liaisons had a range of qualifications. Some had backgrounds in child welfare case management, which one liaison noted helped with credibility when advising case managers on education. Some had experience in both child welfare and education. For example, one was a former case manager who then got a master’s degree in education. Another was a certified teacher who had previously held administrative roles in child welfare. The CBC Education Liaisons had diverse responsibilities that included the following: §§ serving as a resource for case managers regarding school issues §§ serving as a point-of-contact to the local school system §§ attending child-specific meetings convened by the child welfare agency §§ attending child-specific meetings at school (e.g., IEP, expulsion, transition) §§ conducting educational reviews, or requesting and

§§ §§ §§ §§ §§

using education reviews done by a school system employee conducting training for case managers and foster parents developing programs and special projects to improve educational access and outcomes for children in care problem-solving to address school barriers for individual children (e.g. enrollment, mobility/ transportation) Providing information to the court Developing CBC policies related to education

CBC Education Liaisons mentioned school stability and enrollment as two issues in which they were frequently involved. The CBC Education Liaison helped to resolve barriers to enrollment, such as obtaining school records or information needed by a new school and assisting in obtaining transportation for students to remain in their school of origin. Case managers and judges often bring these situations to the attention of the CBC Education Liaison. Some CBC Education Liaisons worked with 18-22 year olds on transition issues such as helping youth meet high school graduation requirements, providing youth with information about GED and alternative education programs, or ensuring that youth receive the tuition waiver for post-secondary programs. We explored whether CBC Education Liaisons systematically completed educational reviews for all children in their agency. Most did not. Those who did complete educational reviews typically did so when a case manager or someone else identified a problem. A few, however, did educational reviews and reported on a student’s educational progress at specific points in a child’s time in care. One CBC Education Liaison regularly reviewed K-12 report cards, and made suggestions to case managers about interventions.


Others did educational reviews at intake or when a child needed to change placements, or in advance of judicial reviews or expulsion hearings. One CBC Education Liaison did educational reviews for all 13year olds in care and they were followed up on at every judicial review thereafter. CBC Education Liaisons also often play a role in information-sharing. They may provide school records to case managers, information to schools about children in care and the identity of caregivers, and information to the court about an individual child’s school progress or the school system. Another duty of the CBC Education Liaison is providing formal training to child welfare professionals and caregivers. This includes pre-service training for new case managers, continuing training for

case managers, as well as training for group home staff, foster parents, and school officials. CBC Education Liaisons also help the CBC develop policies and programs to address the educational needs of children in care. For example, one CBC Education Liaison helped the CBC to develop a strategic plan with goals to improve the education of children in care. For one CBC Education Liaison, most of the job entailed designing, implementing, and supervising academic enrichment programs for children in foster care. In that county, the CBC Education Liaison organized college preparation and scholarship programs and worked with attorneys to assist students with disabilities. Lastly, most every CBC Education Liaison reported participation in the negotiation of the interagency agreement.

In each school district, we spoke with someone who functions as the liaison to the child welfare system. The individuals in this role held titles such as Foster Care Liaison, Dependency Court Liaison, Coordinator or Supervisor in School Social Work Services, or Senior Administrator for Student Advocacy (hereinafter, referred to as “School Liaison”). The role is housed in different departments within each school system. For example, several school districts place foster care liaison functions within the social work department, while others placed it in departments such as student intervention, school operations, special programs, or the department responsible for coordinating the multi-tier system of supports. The previous experience and backgrounds of these personnel also varied. One School Liaison was specifically chosen because of her background in school counseling and experience as an administrator. Another district felt that a background in psychological services was an important qualification for the position. School districts have created different organizational structures to fulfill School Liaison functions. One district had a full-time School Liaison employed by the district, and designates a staff person at each school site as the foster care designee for each school. Another county similarly had foster care designees at each school, and two employees at the district level: one senior administrator who spent 25% of their time on foster care coordination/problem-solving, and a clerical staff person who spent 90% of their time on record-keeping functions related to children in foster care. One district had an office in the same building as the juvenile courts,

staffed by a supervisor and as many as five full-time liaisons who all serve the agencies and judges in the dependency and delinquency systems. In another county, the supervisor and a coordinator in the social work department devote 5 to 20% of their time to oversight and coordination for four school employees who work full-time on education for children in care. They include two guidance counselors, one for middle and high school respectively, a social worker for elementary school, and a court liaison. The guidance counselors and social workers split their time between schools in the district and the child welfare provider agencies. Some of these started as grant funded positions, but were ultimately picked up as full-time positions funded by the school district. Another county has an integrated model in which the lead CBC funds a liaison who is supervised and housed within the school district’s social work department. In one county, the two McKinney-Vento homeless liaisons also served as foster care liaisons, splitting their time 50/50. School Liaisons described a similar range of functions, regardless of their title or where the position was housed. For example, “court liaisons” described job duties that included collaboration with the lead CBC or case management agencies, and “foster care liaisons” included testifying in court among their responsibilities. Many School Liaisons help to facilitate enrollment and transfers for children in care. This might include obtaining school records, particularly if the child moved from a different county, speaking to individual schools to ensure prompt enrollment, or verifying eligibility for free and reduced lunch. School Liaisons also help coordinate transportation

nnChild Welfare Liaisons/Specialists in the School System

Findings 17

to allow a child to remain in the school of origin. Some School Liaisons require that all transportation requests go through them, while others get involved in transportation only when there is an issue. School Liaisons help children, case managers, and caregivers navigate the school system and work to resolve problems. This function may take different forms. For example, School Liaisons participate in conferences with child welfare staff when children are struggling in school. One county has a set time every week for individual case conferences, and any case manager can make an appointment to review a child’s academic progress. One School Liaison reviews Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for all children in group homes. Another School Liaison got a list of all children who failed the 3rd grade statewide assessment, and then made suggestions about appropriate interventions. Another School Liaison prepared an education summary, and provided it to the CBC for meetings discussing a possible disruption in the child’s home placement. This educational summary includes information about the child’s academic history, school changes, attendance, discipline record, ESE information, and grades. Another School Liaison participated in independent living monthly meetings at group homes. The School Liaison also plays a role in informationsharing. School Liaisons help to identify children in the foster care system for school officials. Some School Liaisons obtain shelter orders and send them to the child’s schools to identify which students are in care. Others updated school databases with information, such as case worker and caregiver contact information, as well as information about whether parents are allowed access to the child at school. The School Liaison

provided other types of dependency-related information to schools, and provided information to child welfare professionals about the school system. The School Liaison also communicated with the homeless liaison in each district in an effort to ensure that eligible children are covered under the McKinney-Vento Act. School Liaisons also spent time training, developing policies, and appearing in court. They conducted trainings for case managers, protective investigators, and the GAL program, helped to develop administrative policies related to the dependency system, and participated in the negotiation of the interagency agreement. School Liaisons also appeared in court to provide information about a child’s academic progress or about the school system. As one School Liaison noted, “[a] judge wants— you know . . . come to the status hearing next week to tell us what’s going on, that kind of thing.” One School Liaison noted that she appeared at all shelter hearings to obtain information. The range of duties taken on by a School Liaison depends on the number of people in their organization who focus on foster care issues. School Liaisons acknowledged that they would like to do additional tasks to address the educational needs of children in care, but there was simply not enough time, regardless of whether the School Liaison worked on foster care issues full or part-time. The difference in resources for youth who are homeless came up in a few counties. In one county, there were 10 McKinney Vento staff and only 1 foster care staff. In another county, the 2 designated McKinney Vento staff also served as the foster care designees, and are “paid from Title X grant money, which deals with our homeless.”

Many of the individuals interviewed described their collaboration as positive. “We have a really good rapport with the school board,” said one CBC Education Liaison. Talking about the relationship between the School Liaison and the CBC Education Liaison, one participant noted: “we pick up the phone and we take each other’s phone calls.” In one county, all training is done jointly by the CBC Education Liaison and the School Liaison. In two counties, the CBC and schools share and integrate funding, space, and supervision for the professionals who focus on education issues. Notwithstanding the generally positive perspectives on collaboration, there

were two counties in which the School Liaison and the CBC Education Liaison could not identify each other by name. Interviewees identified several factors that contributed to positive collaboration. Leadership by someone committed to education with a “can do” attitude made it easier for collaborators to resolve issues. Several counties noted that their collaborative efforts were spurred by specific education initiatives or convenings. Several counties mentioned the DCF Everybody’s a Teacher initiative in which DCF hosted regular statewide conference calls to discuss education, provided resources



and training materials, and tasked each DCF region with convening stakeholders in each county to develop a local education plan. Although the initiative ended, one county continues to refer to their workgroup meetings as Everybody’s a Teacher meetings. One county noted that DCF hosted an education summit that prompted continued collaboration. Participants noted that the School Liaison position was also helpful in spurring collaboration. A School Liaison noted that collaboration was her purpose: “just figuring out how we can do it better. That’s pretty much my role, is collaboration.”

A CBC Education Liaison agreed, noting the School Liaison is helpful because there is one point of contact, rather than having to develop contacts for each school. “With the [school liaison], they will reach out to the school and talk to the administration and it is better when two colleagues are talking amongst themselves that, you know, an outside agency trying to direct a school board personnel as to what they should do with this child.” —CBC Education Liaison

School district policies change frequently so it also helps to have a resource to train child welfare staff. Several counties have regular meetings about education issues for children in foster care. These meetings occur at different intervals in different counties, from monthly to every six weeks or quarterly. In two counties, there are no regular meetings between schools and child welfare agencies. In counties with regular meetings, the structure varies. One county has subcommittees to focus on specific issues such as surrogate parents, training, or behavioral issues. Some counties have different types of meetings that may or may not have overlapping participants. In one county, the School Liaison attended meetings every six weeks to discuss a range of systemic issues. This group includes the CBC and outside agencies that work with youth in care, but had different participants than the group that met to negotiate the interagency agreement. One participant described the interagency agreement group as the higher ups that talk about the big picture and processes and procedures. They explained that there is another working group that developed out of “Everybody’s a Teacher” that is more focused on resolving day-to-day problems.

So, we don’t see the overlap because I look at Everybody’s A Teacher as the working group, that—it’s a problem, how we fix it? This is what we do. I look at [the interagency agreement group] as the more—the big picture, the processes and the procedures, and we’re, like, the worker bees. This participant further explained that if there are systemic issues that can’t be fixed by the Everybody’s a Teacher working group, then the issue is sent to the interagency agreement group. In addition to these more policy and practice oriented meetings, some counties have weekly or monthly meetings to talk about individual children. Participants in the study identified a number of other collaborative partners including the ESE department at the school district, SED Net, the Department of Juvenile Justice liaison at the school district, the homeless liaison at the school district, the GAL program, local community colleges and universities, Career Source, Florida Reach, Communities in Schools, and other community organizations that provide independent living services, tutoring or educational enrichment programs. One person noted that they are not currently collaborating with vocational schools, but should be. Participants identified several barriers to collaboration. Some related to the child welfare system. One School Liaison expressed frustration getting schoolrelated matters to become a priority for case managers. It was noted that the high rate of turnover among case managers leads to a lack of follow-through on school issues. In a larger county, the School Liaison reported that it is difficult to navigate the bureaucracy of the child welfare system, especially if there isn’t a single point of contact. The participant lamented that “sometimes you discuss a case with one person on the team, but it does not get back to the rest of the team working with the child.” Another cause for concern was DCF protective investigators’ lack of knowledge about school stability and enrollment issues. For example, more than one participant complained that protective investigators may change a child’s school even before the case was referred to the lead CBC. There were also barriers on the school system side. Participants noted that it was difficult to engage the school system at the individual school level. One participant reported that there were previously designated guidance counselors in schools with high concentrations of children Findings 19

in foster care, but due to funding, these positions were cut. This makes it more difficult to problem solve because there isn’t a single point of contact at the school. Another School Liaison noted “the schools have a lot of autonomy… so dealing with multiple schools and principals, and they all kind of have their own way of operating has been a little bit challenging.” School districts not providing transportation was also viewed as a collaboration challenge. Participants noted some other more general collaboration problems. Out-of-county transfers are challenging because School Liaisons don’t know who their counterpart is in a different county or don’t have the personal relationships to be able to pick up the phone to resolve the issue. One participant saw a problem with attorneys that demand transportation when it is not in the child’s best interests, or that the process be sped up when it is beyond the school’s control.

Other barriers mentioned were not having the time to follow through on all of the issues that get identified at interagency meetings, lack of computerized ways to share information, and misunderstandings about confidentiality and what information can and should be shared. There was acknowledgement that, even when there is positive collaboration, tensions arise among agencies. As one participant said:

The interviews explored two aspects of informationsharing: whether child welfare agencies had electronic access to school information about children in care, and whether the school system had a mechanism in its database to indicate that a child is in foster care. Counties were at different stages with respect to electronic sharing of information. Traditionally, case managers obtained school records for a child by getting written parental consent or a court order, and then requesting physical copies of the records directly from the school. The discussion about electronic data-sharing explored whether counties are using electronic means of sharing information about all of the children in care who attend public school in the county. Of the ten counties studied, five had no means of electronic data-sharing. In one of those counties with no electronic sharing, the School Liaison sent the shelter order to the school, and arranged for physical copies of records to be sent to the CBC. In that and another county with no electronic sharing, the school system’s online portal that allows parents to access student information using a user name and password had been set up to also allow GALs and case managers to get student information. In another county, from time to time, the School Liaison pulled education information for children in care from the school database and shared it with an inter-agency group.

Two counties did periodic exchanges of information, referred to as “data dumps.” One county did it monthly and the other weekly. One interviewee described the data dump process as follows. The CBC sends names and birth dates to the school through an encrypted program. The school sends back matches of the children enrolled in the county’s public school system, along with identified fields of data. In one county, at the time of the interview, the data exchange had not been working for several months so they were in the process of trouble shooting the technical issues. Both counties were in the process of working out a more direct means of information-sharing. Three counties had electronic information exchanges that appeared to allow for real-time (or near to real time) data access. Two counties had an electronic information exchange that allowed case managers to electronically access real-time school data, and allow the agency to run reports on education. In another county, the school sent daily data dumps that were then uploaded to the child welfare system’s case management database. In addition, designated staff at the case management agencies had authorization and training to directly access the school system’s database for records of children in foster care. On the school side, most counties had a mechanism to designate child-welfare involved children in school

I would say, probably that there’s a spirit of collaboration in our district and in our county. I think the misunderstandings come up around issues like confidentiality, disappointment about children being moved. And not in a— like a negative, accusing way, but just kind of a sad or ‘could this be better’ sort of way.



databases, but one did not. Most counties limited access to that designation to specific administrators or counseling staff, but in one county, the designation could be accessed by all school staff. One county allows school social workers direct access to certain fields of the child welfare database. When asked generally about barriers to collaboration, several interviewees cited lack of electronic data sharing. As one official in a county with no electronic exchange noted, “data systems don’t talk to each other.

[There is] a lot of duplication of data input and a lot of duplication of work and a lot of manual things that would be unnecessary if the statewide systems were a little more compatible.” Even in counties with electronic information sharing, it appeared that this information was not regularly reviewed, used or analyzed. There was one county in which the guidance counselors reviewed school data every 9 weeks, but no other county identified any systematic review or use of data.

As previously noted, instability in school placements has a significant impact on students in care. Across the board participants acknowledged that children in foster care changed schools frequently. Some noted that high rates of school mobility sometimes began when the child was living with his or her family, before entering foster care. Home placement changes were the primary

reason that children changed schools. When asked what efforts are made to minimize school changes, almost all participants recognized school mobility as a concern that needed to be addressed, and only one CBC Education Liaison was unfamiliar with the issue and did not know what was done to minimize school changes.

Several CBC Education Liaisons said the agency made an effort to place children in a home within or near the child’s school of origin. For some, the placement unit played a critical role by prioritizing school stability when considering placement options. One CBC made placement staff sign a written oath to try to maintain school stability. At another CBC, the master list of foster parents included the elementary, middle and high school for the placement. Another CBC required case managers to include the child’s current school on the form requesting a new home placement. In a different approach, one CBC attributed its low school mobility rates directly to being able to maintain placement stability. This CBC noted that it was able to maintain placement stability because the placement department worked hard to prevent placements from breaking down, and licensed more foster homes than it closed. In one county, the school district sends educational summaries to the child welfare agency for use during meetings to discuss

placement changes. Despite these efforts, participants from both the school system and child welfare agency identified changes in home placement as one of the key reasons for high rates of school mobility. All of these practices assist in keeping a child near the child’s school, as long as there are homes available in those areas. Participants from almost every county lamented the dearth of foster homes in their county. Because placement options are scarce, children are moved long distances. One School Liaison, recognizing this shortage, began her own campaign recruiting foster parents throughout her school district. Even in a county where the CBC Education Liaison thought the CBC did a good job of keeping children near their school of origin, there was still not a continuum of placements for children who needed a specialty level of care. For those children with higher needs, it was more difficult to find placements near the school and they inevitably had to change schools.

All of the participants stated that the school district allows children in foster care to remain in a school outside of their home boundary. When children first enter care, they may be allowed to remain in their original school, and when children change placements within foster

care, they may also be allowed to remain in their original school or the school they were attending prior to the home change. Some participants talked about this as a mandatory right or law, while others suggested that it was up to individual principals and schools. One School


nnThe Role of Placement in School Stability

nnProcess for Children to Remain in Their School of Origin

Findings 21

Liaison noted that, in the past, individual schools were unwilling to keep foster children in their schools, but that over time there had been a culture change so that principals now understand that keeping children in the same school can help reduce drop-out rates and create

success. Now the general sense in that district is that, as long as transportation can be arranged, children are generally allowed to remain in a school outside their home boundaries.

The child welfare agency typically makes the decision about whether the child is going to remain in a school or change schools, then alerts school officials if transportation is needed to maintain school stability. The School Liaisons we interviewed were typically not involved in making the decision about school change. One School Liaison participated in some, but not all, of the meetings to discuss school changes. This seemed to be a source of frustration for some School Liaisons. When asked how the decision is made about whether a child should change schools, one School Liaison responded, “that’s a barrier and a challenge because it’s a mystery.” One School Liaison noted “So, I think a lot of times the [case manager’s] emphasis is placed more so on the placement and the issues with the placement and the convenience of the placement, as opposed to the stability of the child.” Several participants said there is no formal process for determining whether it is in a child’s best interests to change schools. Some counties left it entirely up to the case manager, or some combination of the caregivers, case manager and the placement department. We found a few counties that reported using a team process to make the decision regarding change of the child’s school. Members of these teams can include the caregiver or foster parent, GAL, the educational surrogate parent, case manager, therapist and the child, depending on their age. Participants noted that it should be the team’s collective decision to change a child’s school. They also

shared some of the factors that should be considered, such as the number of prior schools and the availability of special education services, but stated there wasn’t a specific protocol for making the decision. The CBC Education Liaison in one district says that, particularly when a child is in a private school setting, she trains case managers that it needs to be a team decision about whether a move is in the child’s best interests because the child may lose a McKay scholarship otherwise. In two counties, there was an approval process intended to create accountability for school changes. In one such county, the school database does not allow a child in foster care to change schools without an override from the School Liaison. This mechanism means that the School Liaison is aware of every school change. The School Liaison, however, was not necessarily involved in discussions about whether a school change was appropriate for every one of those children. In another county, every licensed care placement that would require a school change has to be approved by a senior staff member at the lead CBC through what’s called an Education Waiver. It is a measure intended to deter placement outside of the child’s school boundaries, and are granted if there is a valid reason for the change. The county reports that it has been able to do a good job of finding placements in the school community, and have challenges only if the child requires a specialty level of care, which may require a move to a different county.

All of the counties stated that the school district sometimes provides transportation to allow children to remain in a school of origin. It is unclear, however, the extent to which transportation is actually being provided because this information is generally not being tracked. One county suggested that the school district is able to fulfill most transportation requests, but most participants acknowledged that requests are sometimes not fulfilled due to the long distances involved, because an existing bus route was not available, or because of funding. Several counties used strategies to get children

qualified as McKinney-Vento eligible in order to get funding for transportation. Most counties had differing interpretations of McKinney-Vento. In one county, all children were classified as McKinney-Vento eligible when they entered care. In another county, any child in a shelter, group home or with multiple placement disruptions was qualified as McKinney-Vento. This classification allowed the school district to tap into federal funding streams to provide transportation. Although the data is not being tracked, several participants had the feeling that their county busing

nnHow Is the Decision Made About Whether a Child Should Change Schools?

nnTransportation as a Tool for Stability

Findings 23

systems were operating effectively. One School Liaison noted she placed over 500 bus requests last year and the school transportation department was able to fill all but one. “We have—the school board has been wonderful in getting us bus—getting our bus requests assigned for our kids regardless of the placement in the county.” At the same time, most school districts have a processing time to approve and begin transportation. As one participant noted, “it could take up to 10 days for a bus to be assigned, so those two weeks of transportation is hard for, you know, getting the child to school.” The child might miss school during that time, or case managers or foster parents might take the child to school in the interim. A smaller district noted that their bus requests were usually processed by the fifth day. Another challenge related to transportation is that transportation is not provided across county lines. A child may live a relatively short distance from a school,

but if the school falls within a different county, the school district will not provide transportation. Counties had different processes for making transportation requests. In some counties, transportation requests were sent by case managers to the School Liaison. In other counties, where placement played an active role in addressing school stability, transportation requests went directly from the intake or placement departments to the School Liaison. Participants also identified other ways to arrange transportation to maintain school stability. Case managers, foster parents, vans owned by case management agencies, and public transportation were all used to get children to and from school. Aftercare programs were also useful. Some aftercare programs provide transportation, or placing the child in an aftercare program extended the day so that a foster parent could pick up a child after work.

Training is another strategy identified to achieve school stability. Case managers are trained so that they know that children have the right to remain in their school of origin. One county noted that during training they had reframed the language to say students should

stay in their school of origin unless it is not in their best interests, rather than saying efforts should be made to maintain school stability. Another CBC viewed school stability as an overarching value that gets imbued in training and other opportunities when staff get together.

Most participants said they did not systematically collect data or track the number of school changes among children in foster care. A few noted that the K-12 report card is the only way stability information is tracked. In one of the few counties tracking mobility

information, 66% of students were remaining in their school of origin. In order to track mobility, the CBC and School Liaison needed to come to a shared definition of mobility because they initially had different definitions and had been collecting different information.

Participants proposed several solutions specifically related to school mobility. They suggested that there should be a mechanism to provide transportation beyond county lines, as well as allowing children to stay in the same school, even after reunification with parents. Another suggestion was licensing more foster homes to

create more placement options in a child’s school district, and targeting foster care recruitment to certain groups like teachers. Other suggestions focused on working more actively with foster parents to preserve placements, and to keep children in the school of origin despite where the other children in the home are attending.

In all ten counties, a child could be enrolled in school by either the case manager or the current caregiver, which could include foster parents, relative or non-relative caregivers. In one county, group home providers can enroll the child in school, but cannot withdraw a child.

We asked participants about the process to enroll a child in a new school. Some school districts have a twostep process in which the caregiver or case manager must go to the current school to withdraw the child, and then go to the new school to register the child. In one county

nnTraining on School Mobility

nnTracking School Mobility

nnProposals to Promote School Stability



with these two steps, the parent or guardian who enrolls the child has to be the same person who withdraws the child. Some districts have streamlined this process so that a caregiver or case manager need only appear at the new school to register a child. Another county uses four centralized locations for enrollment, so caregivers do not have to go directly to the school. The enrollment process in some counties varies from school to school because the district is very decentralized. One School Liaison in a larger county described the process as “gray” due to this variation. The School Liaison in a smaller county with varying enrollment procedures noted that enrollment for foster care students was nonetheless “routine and seamless,” as principals and guidance counselors at different schools often know each other and can pick up the phone and call each other. Some counties have special enrollment procedures for children in foster care. Three counties use a special registration form for dependent child, however the way this form is used or processed varies. In one county, case managers are supposed to complete the form and send it, along with the relevant court order, to the School Liaison and CBC Education Liaison. The form is used to update school records, and should be completed every time a child enters care, has a new case manager or has a change in placement. Both the CBC Education Liaison and the School Liaison lamented that “we don’t get them as much as we should.” In the other two counties with a special form, case managers are supposed to present the forms directly to the school upon enrollment; the form signals the child to be enrolled immediately without any need for additional documentation. In one larger county, a case manager is supposed to go to School Liaison office first to get transfer paper work and take it to the new school. They do not have to go to the previous school to withdraw the child.

Participants said that, for the most part, children in foster care can be enrolled immediately and produce enrollment documents at a later date. “Enrollment works well, there haven’t been problems. Sometimes group homes may run into problems and the guidance counselor or CBC education director may get involved,” said one participant. A School Liaison said foster care students had 30 days to produce enrollment documents, while others did not specify a time frame. Participants in two counties said there were initially some enrollment barriers where schools were delaying enrollment and requesting documents, but these were addressed through conversations between the CBC and the School District. When there are enrollment barriers, the School Liaison or CBC Education Liaison may get involved. To minimize delays or problems, one CBC Education Liaison trains case managers to get a class schedule or the latest report card to make enrollment in the new school easier. Out of county transfers are a particular challenge in several areas. One participant described a child who transferred from a different county and was placed in eighth grade, only to find out six weeks later when records arrived that the child had already completed the eighth grade. One county had devised a pilot with the child welfare agency that does intake for children coming from different counties. As soon as the county learned that a child was being transferred, the School Liaison would write a letter directly to the old school district asking for records and would then follow up until the records were received. Prior to that, either the intake agency or case management agency would request school records after the child was already in the county. The School Liaison said the idea was to have a single point of contact, in order to create accountability and try to get records more quickly.

A basic measure of a student’s success is regular school attendance. Some participants thought poor attendance was primarily a problem among teens in foster care who refused to attend school, but not among younger children. One School Liaison noted that attendance improved for some children once they entered care because, prior to entering care, there might have been instability at home manifesting in poor attendance.

There was variation in the extent to which counties tracked attendance for children in out-of-home care. At least three districts were not tracking absences of children in care. Two counties were tracking absences through the K-12 portal, but noted “that’s only as accurate as the case managers are filling it out.” In yet another county, the CBC Education Liaison used the attendance information listed on the K-12 report card to contact case managers when a child had 3 or more


Findings 25

absences. In one of the counties with an integrated data system between the school system and the CBC, an email is automatically sent to a case manager after any of their students have been absent for 2 or more days. Two counties talked about the school system’s Early Warning System that is legislated for middle school students. The system is based on research that identifies indicators of whether a child is at risk to drop out of school. Students are color coded within the database based on the level of risk that the student is likely to drop out, and attendance is one of the factors considered. Case managers are trained on the early warning system, and the school system is supposed to implement interventions to help at risk children do better in school. If a child has excessive absences, one school district refers children to a school social worker for a remediation plan with goals and tasks for the school, caregiver and child. In a smaller county with a truancy court, the district will not initiate a truancy petition for children in out-of-home care, but will instead refer children to the CBC to implement services to address the problem. One participant noted that case managers have too many children in their case load to have much control over school attendance; it is a responsibility they leave to the caregiver. Teenagers were mentioned in several interviews as having attendance issues. This was especially true in a group home setting. One intervention that has been tried is to have one-on-one counseling with youth to

motivate them and drive investment in their education, as well as providing options for completing school if they are behind. Study participants noted that one way to avoid absences is through training. Several participants train case managers and foster parents to schedule appointments and visitation outside of school hours and on teacher work days. Another strategy mentioned is alerting caregivers when dental vans will be at school so that children can get dental appointments there without having to miss school. Additionally, the process regarding bringing in the proper paperwork to have a student excused for the absence is important in training case workers. For example, in one county a case manager must call or bring in an excuse within 48 hours to have an absence excused. The subject of court attendance varied throughout the state. One school district had stopped allowing children to be pulled out of school for court. Alternatively, the judges in a different county require children to attend all court hearings. In yet another county, children were attending court as needed, but there was a concern as to whether case managers were using the form letter to get their absences excused. To help avoid children missing school, one county piloted a program to teleconference children into their court hearings. The program required logistics to ensure the child was in the right place when their case was called. While the participant thought the program showed promise, it did not last.

Counties had differing processes for monitoring the academics of children in foster care. All CBCs had a way to obtain school records of children in care. In exploring the mechanisms for monitoring school progress, we were trying to assess whether there were systems in place to ensure that someone was paying attention to those school records and taking action if a child was not doing well in school. One county closely tracked data, and had the ability to generate reports about how children performed on a number of different measures. As previously discussed, some participants noted that the school district used the Early Warning System. Case managers, who had been trained on the system, were supposed to use it in coordination with school contacts. But there was no mechanism to determine if foster care children are

disproportionately at risk of drop out, or to institute interventions specifically for children in foster care. In a smaller county, the CBC Education Liaison reviewed the K-12 card each month, and provided educational information for the child family services team meeting. In another county, the CBC Education Liaison sends the School Liaison a weekly list of students to obtain academic information, and the School Liaison also ran a list of eleventh graders who need help. In most places, there was no systematic way to flag children who were having problems in school and institute interventions. Generally, the responsibility for monitoring progress and addressing school problems was spread among multiple adults. As one participant explained:



There’s not a whole lot of things that we do differently with [children known to the department] except—except some levels of understanding and trying to develop advocacy for the people—through the people that work with these students. . . We are also making the assumption that children known to the department, their parents may not have taken that advocacy role in the past and that it is incumbent upon the service providers, the caretakers to be more vigilant in the advocacy role now. This approach created a lack of accountability in which problems seemed to be addressed in an ad hoc way. One example relied on the foster parent or caregiver to alert the case manager when there is an academic concern. The case manager might be notified during their monthly visit and report this information when it was time to do the K-12 report card. Generally, if there was a problem, the case manager or caregiver were expected to schedule a parent-teacher conference at school. Several counties noted that the case managers were trained, and should be using, the school district’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports. If a child is having problems in school, the case manager may reach out to the CBC Education Liaison, who might help the case manager identify appropriate interventions, such as a behavioral analyst in the home or tutoring, or who might attend a meeting at the school. In one county, the CBC Education Liaison was responsible for approving in-home tutoring requests. The School Liaisons typically get involved only if someone from the case management agency brings a concern to their attention. As such, the extent of the School Liaison’s involvement on child-specific issues varied widely. Some School Liaisons were unlikely to get involved; this was the case, for example, in a

county where there were foster care designees at each individual school. In this county, every child in foster care is automatically referred to a school-based team. These are the problem-solving teams at a school responsible for implementing Response to Intervention and Multi-Tiered System of Supports. The School Liaison may help facilitate getting the team involved to address a situation, but rarely gets contacted by the teams. In another county, the School Liaison and CBC Education Liaison routinely participated in team meetings to address the educational needs of an individual child. One county had dedicated social workers for elementary students, and guidance counselors for high school students, in out-of-home care. The guidance counselors get very involved in working with high school students who are struggling in school. “They are warriors for these kids,” said one participant. The guidance counselors use a tiered system of interventions, which are detailed in a written protocol. There is an initial assessment to determine the appropriate tier for each child. Guidance counselors develop and monitor a progression plan, meet with kids individually, connect children with school system resources, and engage caregivers and case managers. The county was still trying to figure out the role of the social worker for Findings 27

elementary school students because there are too many students to be involved in their intervention plans, but they were likely going to look at data to identify the most at-risk students. A few counties had educational reviews for youth at specific ages. The CBC Education Liaison does an educational review for 13-year olds, along with an independent living guidance counselor at the school district. They reviewed academic records and retention information, and provided recommendations to the case manager for follow up. Another county does a comprehensive staffing for every child when they enter care, which includes a review of the child’s school history and educational needs. The team creates an action plan for each child, but only does subsequent team meetings on an as needed basis. Participants identified a range of available interventions.

Several CBCs paid for in-home tutoring, while one school district had arranged on-site tutoring at group homes using the school district’s Title I funding. Group homes were identified as a particular focus for intervention, as more than one county noted it engaged directly with group homes to ensure they were providing structured homework time, computers were working and the home understood the child’s academic needs. In one county, all third graders who failed the statewide assessment were enrolled in a school district summer program. Other students may get referred to a community organization that provides intensive educational support. One county had a separate independent living provider that focused on academic progress and preparation for graduation. Lastly, another county started its own intensive college preparation program for high school students.

Counties varied in terms of who was the point of contact to get surrogate parents appointed. In some counties, it was the ESE department within the school district. In one county, it was the students with Emotional/ Behavioral Network (SEDNET) coordinator. SEDNET is a state wide multi agency network that provides supports in each county for students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities. Referrals for surrogate parents come directly from case managers, and in several places, the School Liaison was not involved in any way in this process. Several participants reported that the school district and CBC work together to determine which children need surrogate appointment. One county has a surrogate parent subcommittee that meets monthly or bi-monthly and includes representatives from the GAL, CLS, the school district and the CBC. They begin with lists of children who need a surrogate, and also discuss each student to make sure the surrogate is meeting their needs. A few participants noted the legal requirements for appointing surrogate parents, and that care is taken to

appoint surrogates only in those situations where other options have been explored. Group homes are sometimes targeted when considering whether children need surrogates. One participant, for example, commented that there was a team of surrogates that served the same group homes and that this worked well. GALs often serve as surrogate parents, and several counties had regular trainings for them. However, there was one county in which GALs are not allowed to be surrogates. One county has a roster of private attorneys to serve as surrogate parents that the court uses to appoint. Otherwise surrogates were recruited, trained and appointed by the district. Several participants noted there were not enough surrogates to meet the need. Retired teachers were mentioned as a successful pool of surrogate parents. One other problem noted by a participant is that courts don’t understand that surrogate parents only get appointed under IDEA and try to appoint for any child with academic problems.

Most School Liaisons were involved in negotiating and drafting the county’s Interagency Agreement, but one was only vaguely familiar with agreement, and did not think there had been a lot of changes to the

agreement in the past few years, and another said they did not have an agreement.




IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY AND PRACTICE FEDERAL POLICY nnProvide Funding to Implement Foster Care Provisions of ESSA ESSA, for the first time, mandated that school districts collaborate with the child welfare system to ensure school stability for children in foster care; decide how transportation to maintain school stability will be provided, arranged, and funded; and designate a point of contact within local school systems to address the needs of children in foster care. While this was a significant step forward, no additional federal funding was allocated to implement these provisions. Schools may use Title I funding to implement ESSA, but there is no guarantee these funds will be appropriately allocated to foster youth. Although several school

districts had established full-time foster care liaison positions, others had no district-level staff dedicated to foster care issues. Even in places with foster care liaisons, participants noted that existing resources were insufficient and, in all counties, lack of transportation was sometimes a factor preventing school stability. Some counties were using McKinney-Vento Act liaisons or funding for foster youth and are now barred by ESSA from doing so. Appropriate funding should, therefore, be allocated to implement the foster care provisions of ESSA.


nnThe Florida Department of Education (DOE) and Department of Children and Families (DCF) Should Provide Joint Guidance and Technical Assistance to Counties The DOE and DCF should collaborate in providing technical assistance to local communities to address the educational needs of children in foster care. The state agencies should take the lead on technical assistance, training and networking opportunities. This can include issuing joint written guidance memos, hosting webinars and informational meetings, and preparing toolkits and templates that can be adapted by local communities. The state agencies can also facilitate networking opportunities such as regular/monthly telephone calls and regional meetings to bring together CBC Education Liaisons and School Liaisons for further collaboration.

This will create opportunities for Liaisons to learn from each other about roles and responsibilities, as well as how different communities address foster youth services. As an example, several years ago, DCF developed an initiative called Everybody’s a Teacher that was ultimately disbanded. Several counties credited the initiative for spurring collaborative efforts in their county. Both DCF and the DOE should share responsibility for any new initiatives in order to signal to front-line staff in both schools and child welfare agencies that this is a shared responsibility.

The Florida Department of Children and Families should designate an education point of contact, and institutionalize the role, so that there is always a senior

administrator responsible for policy and practice on the education of children in foster care. This role can coordinate with the State Department of Education on

nnThe Department of Children and Families Should Designate an Education Point of Contact

Implications for Policy and Practice 29

implementation of ESSA; ensure implementation of federal child welfare law and state law on education; lead

statewide education initiatives; and serve as a resource for local child welfare agencies on education issues.

Florida Department of Education should implement the provision of ESSA mandating annual reporting on the graduation rates and statewide test scores of children and youth in foster care. Furthermore, Florida should go beyond the ESSA mandates to report other useful information such as the number and percentage of school-aged dependent children in each school district; suspension, expulsion, grade retention and drop-out rates for dependent children; and information about the number of school changes for dependent children. Florida appears to be starting to do this, as some of this data was recently provided by DOE, and reported for the first time in DCF’s 2017 Annual Performance Report Card. It is important for the state to take the lead on data tracking and information-sharing to ensure that crosssystem data is accurate, consistent across the state and shared in the most efficient manner. For state-

level reports on academic outcomes to be meaningful, there must be effective information-sharing; accurate information about who is in foster care must be linked to up-to-date school records. This study revealed that each county is developing its own data-sharing mechanisms, and two-thirds of the counties studied did not have electronic data-sharing. Most counties in the study were not systematically tracking education outcomes of youth in care. The study also revealed that there was inconsistency in what information was being collected. For example, there should be common definitions for data elements across counties and between the child welfare and education systems. Having reliable information on how children in foster care perform will make the unique needs of foster youth more visible and provide important information for state and local agencies when they allocate funding and develop services.

The Florida State Department of Education should help ensure seamless enrollment and speedy transfer of school records when children move to a school in a different county. Several counties reported that there were sometimes enrollment barriers or delays in the transfer of records when a child changes counties. The

state should investigate the precise nature of these barriers and develop policies and practices to address the issues. The DOE should also help facilitate agreements and mechanisms to transport children across county lines, another concern raised by study participants.

nnTrack Academic Outcomes for Children in Out-of-Home Care

nnThe Department of Education Should Help Ensure Stability Across County Lines and Seamless Transfer When Children Move to Another County within the State


nnDefine and Devote Adequate Resources to the Liaison Role The Community-Based Care Agency and School District should each clearly define the role and responsibilities of the Liaison, and should devote appropriate staff resources to the Liaison role. Some counties did not have full-time Liaisons, and even in counties with full-time liaisons, participants acknowledged that they did not have sufficient time to adequately address the needs of dependent children in their county. There was also some duplication between the function of the CBC Education Liaison and the School District Liaison. There isn’t a one-

size-fits-all model for the liaison function, as exemplified by the different structures being used in counties with full-time liaisons. Counties should carefully consider the resources needed and most appropriate structure to address the needs of children in their county. For School District Liaisons, some thought should be given to which Department within the school system houses the position. The chosen Department or structure should allow: access to senior leadership who can address structural barriers and make policy changes


when needed; an ability to form working relationships with other Departments such as transportation, Exceptional Student Education, and social work; easy access to resources and interventions to benefit the individual child; and leverage to be able to advocate for

foster children with Principals and other individuals at the school level. School District study participants suggested that some Departments within the School District may be better situated than others to take on this role.

The CBC Lead Agency and School District should explore integrated models with shared funding and resources. For example, in one county, the CBC paid for a full-time education specialist who had an office within the school system, access to school resources, and was supervised by a school employee. In another county, the School District and Lead CBC worked together as a unified team with shared funding, space and staff;

the team included administrators at both the CBC and School District, a court system liaison, and several counselors that provided academic advocacy and guidance to individual children. This integrated model avoids duplication and maximizes resources. These models should be studied further to determine their effectiveness.

nnExplore Integrated Models for Serving Dependent Children

Information-Sharing and Data Tracking

nnCBCs and School Districts Should Electronically Share Information and Track Academic Outcomes The Lead CBC and School District should electronically share relevant, accurate information. They should also collect and organize data in a way that allows them to meaningfully track outcomes. Counties also need to track more outcomes than those required under ESSA, such as data on grade retention and school mobility, as well as information related to accountability such as the number of transportation requests fulfilled. Most counties were not electronically sharing data and, even when they were, did not have a mechanism to track aggregate academic outcomes. While there is an important role for DOE leadership on this issue, the current reality in Florida is that each School District is responsible for managing its own database. On the child welfare side, while each Lead

CBC is required to store information in the statewide FSFN database, CBCs typically need other technology in order to electronically share data with the school system, and customize the way it tracks data and run aggregate reports. Thus, to improve informationsharing and data tracking, there has to be concerted collaborative effort at the county level, supported by state leadership and technical assistance. When the school system can identify children in foster care, child welfare staff have accurate up-to-date school information, and agencies have accurate aggregate outcome data, those on the front line can intervene to help individual children and data can inform policies, practices and interventions.

In addition to the liaison role, counties should take other steps to promote more effective collaboration. Senior officials in both agencies should emphasize the importance of collaboration to address the educational needs of children in foster care. As suggested by study participants, there should be regular interagency meetings to establish relationships and trust, identify problems at the individual and systemic level, and lay the foundation for more integrated collaborative work. Meetings may have different goals and members including child-specific meetings to discuss interventions

and problem solve; meetings among liaisons and others involved in day-to-day operations to share problems and experiences, review data, develop procedures, and implement changes in practice; and meetings among high-level decision-makers to address barriers or initiatives that may require policy change, culture change, or additional resources. These meetings should also include other agencies involved in the child’s life such as the Guardian ad Litem program, mental health providers and placement departments.

nnCounties Should Strengthen and Formalize Inter-agency Collaboration

Implications for Policy and Practice 31

School Stability nnFormalize the Process for Making Best Interests School Stability Decisions Lead CBCs and School Districts should clarify policies and practices around school stability. The law states that a child in foster care should remain at their school of origin unless it is in the child’s best interests to change schools. While most participants could articulate this policy goal, most counties did not have a clear procedure for making a decision about whether a school change is in a child’s best interests. Furthermore, the School District Liaisons interviewed were rarely involved in that decision. There should be a quick and systematic process to make this decision, involving the school system, child welfare agency, the child, and

others on the child’s team. The process should spell out when a decision needs to be made, how the decision will be made, who is responsible for initiating the process, who needs to be included, what information must be gathered, and the factors to be considered in making the decision. The decision should be based on consideration of a written list of best interest factors that include the distance involved in travel, the child’s current academic status, and the services available at each school. The goal is to strike a balance between minimizing the disruptive effects of school changes and ensuring a high quality educational environment for the child.

Participants noted that high school mobility is linked to the high rate of home placement changes, shortage of foster and therapeutic homes, and failure to take education into account when making placement decisions. There should be a renewed effort to recruit foster parents, including as one participant suggested, targeted recruitment among school teachers. CBCs should make greater effort to prevent placements from breaking down

and, thereby, reduce placement mobility. In addition, education should be prioritized during placement decisions by, for example, having a summary of the child’s academic record during placement decisions, explicitly discussing a child’s educational placement before making a final decision about placement, and maintaining easily accessible information about the zoned schools for each placement being considered.

ESSA requires School Districts to collaborate with child welfare agencies to develop and implement procedures for how transportation to maintain school stability will be provided, arranged, and funded. School Districts, DCF regional offices and lead CBCs should update their inter-agency agreements to include transportation plans and develop any other written procedures needed to implement the plan. In

implementing this provision, school districts and CBCs should think creatively about how to pool resources to provide transportation in the most cost-effective manner. School districts and child welfare agencies should also formalize a dispute resolution mechanism to resolve disputes about whether a chosen placement is in the child’s best interests, or how transportation should be funded to ensure school stability.

School Districts should maintain accurate records on the number of school changes, the number of transportation requests made, and fulfilled, as well as

other information relevant to stability. This information is critical to effectively reduce school mobility.

nnIncrease the Number of Placements and Prioritize Education in Placement Decisions

nnDevelop Local Written Transportation Procedures

nnTrack Data on School Mobility



Smithgall, C., Gladden, R. M., Howard, E., George, R., & Courtney, M. (2004). Educational experiences of children in outof-home care. Chapin Hall Center For Children at the University of Chicago, 16-17; default/files/old_reports/156.pdf.; Trout, A. L., Hagaman, J., Casey, K., Reid, R., & Epstein, M. (2008). The academic status of children and youth in out-of-home care: A review of the literature. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(9): 979-994.; Berger, L. M., Cancian, M., Han, E., Noyes, J., & Rios-Salas, V. (2014). Children’s academic achievement and foster care. Pediatrics, 135(1), 2448. full.pdf. 2 Castrecchini, S. (2009). Issue brief: Educational outcomes in court-dependent youth in San-Mateo county. Stanford CA: John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities. Educational%20Outcomes%20for%20Court%20Dependent%20Youth%20Issue%20Brief.pdf; Zorc, C. S., O’Reilly, A. L., Matone, M. L., Long, J., Watts, C., & Rubin D. (2013). The relationship of placement experience to school absenteeism and changing schools in young, school-aged children in foster care. Children and Youth Services Review,35(5), 826-833; Smithgall, C., Jarpe-Ratner, E., & Walker, L. (2010). Looking back, moving forward: Using integrated assessments to examine the educational experiences of children entering foster care.Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. https:// 3 Piescher, K., Colburn, G., Laliberte, T., & Hong, S. (2014). Child protective services and the achievement gap. Children and Youth Services Review, 47, 408-415. 4 Parrish T., Dubois, J., Delano, C., Dixon, D., Webster, D., Berrick, J. D., & Bolus, S. (2001). Education of foster group home children, whose responsibility is it?: Study of the educational placement of children residing in group homes; Berrick, J. D., Barth, R. P., & Needell, B. (1994). A comparison of kinship foster homes and foster family homes: Implications for kinship foster care as family preservation. Children and Youth Services Review, 16 (1/2): 33-63; Barrat, V. X., & Berliner, B. (2013). The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 1: Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care in California’s Public Schools. San Francisco: WestEd. 5 Florida Department of Children and Families (2017). 2017 Annual Performance Report: Fiscal Year 2016-2017, at 74, http:// 6 Casey Family Programs Compilation of data from Department of Children & Families and DOR (on file with author) [hereinafter Casey Family Programs]; DCF and Non-DCF Report 2013-14, Florida DOE, DCF and Non-DCF Report 2013-14, Florida Department of Education, Division of Accountability, Research & Measurement (on file with author). 7 Casey Family Programs, supra note 9; DCF and Non-DCF Report 2013-2014; Children in Florida, Child. Def. Fund (Mar. 20, 2013), 8 Florida Department of Children and Families (2017). 2017 Annual Performance Report: Fiscal Year 2016-2017, at 73, pdf. 9 Wolanin, T. R. (2005). Higher education opportunities for foster youth: A primer for policymakers. The Institute for Higher Education Policy, Burley, M. (2013). Educational outcomes of foster youth–updated benchmarks (Document Number 13-06-3901). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Clemens, E. V. (2014). Graduation and Dropout Rates for Colorado Students in Foster Care: 5-Year Trend Analysis (2007-08 to 2011-12). Greeley, Co: University of Northern Colorado. 10 Barrat, V. X., & Berliner, B. (2013). The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 1: Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care in California’s Public Schools. San Fransisco: WestEd. 11 Blome, W. (1997). What happens to foster kids: Educational experiences of a random sample of foster care youth and a matched group of non-foster care youth. Child and Adolescent Social Work 14(11), 41-53; Courtney, M. E., Dworsky A., Ruth, G., Keller, T., Havlicek, J., & Bost, N. (2005). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 19. Chicago: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. 12 Florida Department of Children and Families (2017). 2017 Annual Performance Report: Fiscal Year 2016-2017, at 74, http:// 34 CHILDREN & YOUTH LAW CLINIC UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI SCHOOL OF LAW

13 Florida Department of Children and Families (2015). 2015 Florida NYTD Self-Report Survey, retrieved from http://www. 14 Pecora, P. J., Kessler, R. C., Williams, J., O’Brien, K., Downs, A. C., English, D., White, J., Hiripi, E., White, C. R., Wiggins, T., & Holmes, K. (2005). Improving family Foster Care: Findings from the northwest foster care alumni study. http://www.casey. org/northwest-alumni-study/. (Over four out of five Northwest alumni interviewed (84.8%) had completed high school; however, 28.5% of those were via a GED, compared to the national average of 5%). Id.; Pecora, P. J., Williams, J., Kessler, R. C., Hiripi, E., O’Brien, K., Emerson, J., Herrick, M. A., & Torres, D., (2006) Assessing the educational achievements of adults who were formerly placed in family foster care. Child & Family Social Work, 11(3), 220-231. A substantial portion of the Casey alumni (72.5%) had received high school diplomas by the time their case closed, but 18.2% of them earned their diploma through a GED test. Pecora, P. J., Williams, J., Kessler, R. C., Downs, A. C., O’Brien, K., Hiripi, E., & Morello, S. (2005). Assessing the effects of foster care: Early results from the casey national alumni study. AlumniStudy_US_Report_Full.pdf. 15 D., Alsalam, N., Smith, T. M., & National Library of Education. (1998). Educational and labor market performance of GED recipients. 16 Martin, J. (2003). Foster Youth Desire College, Study Shows, but Face Roadblocks to Learning. Washington Unversity in St. Louis, the Source. Retrieved from; See generally Wolanin, supra note 11 (stating that the rate of college completion for foster youth in the 1980s ranged from less than 1% to 5.4%). 17 Wolanin, supra note 11. 18 Higher Education: Actions Needed to Improve Access to Federal Financial Assistance for Homeless and Foster Youth, GAO16-343, at 11-12, (2016). 19 Id. at 14. 20 Courtney, M. E., Dworsky, A., Brown, A., Cary, C., Love, K., & Vorhies, V. (2011). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 26. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. 21 Pecora, et al., Improving Family Foster Care, supra note 18, at 36 (showing only 1.8% of alumni interviewed obtained a bachelor’s degree by age twenty-five); (showing 10.8% of alumni received a bachelor’s degree by age twenty-five). 22 Courtney, et al., supra note 9, at 71; supra note 10, at 32-39; Courtney, et al., supra note 20, at 28 -45, 90-93. 23 Casey Family Programs. Foster Care by Numbers. August 2010. dmx/2013%5C07%5Cfile_20130719_111354_oStS_0.pdf. dmx/2013%5C07%5Cfile_20130719_111354_oStS_0.pdf. 24 Pecora, et al., Improving Family Foster Care, supra note 18, at 37. (The employment rate was 80.1% for alumni interviewed. Id. This rate was lower than for twenty- to thirty-four-year-olds in the general population (95%), and onethird of the alumni (33.2%) had household incomes that were at or below the poverty level, three times the national poverty rate.). 25 Courtney, et al., supra note 11, at 41.; Courtney, et al., supra note 20 at 51-61. 26 See generally Florida NYTD, supra note 13 (showing that Florida has a below average high school and GED completion rate). 27 See generally Phillips, et al., supra note 3; Baum, S., Ma, J., & Payea, K. (2013). Education pays 2013: The Benefits of higher education for individuals and society. Trends in Higher Education Series.; Hout, M. (2012). Social and Economic Returns to College Education in the united States. Annual Review of Sociology 38, 379-4000. 28 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections (2016), retrieved at; Cutler, D. M. & Lleras-Muney, A. (2007). Policy Bried: Education and Health, National Poverty Center, retrieved at http:// 29 See generally Phillips, et al., supra note 3; Okpych, N. J., & Courtney, M. E. (2014). Does education pay for youth formerly in foster care? Comparison of employment outcomes with a national sample. Children and Youth Services Review 43, 18-28. 30 Kele Stewart, The Connection between Permanency and Education in Child Welfare Policy. Hastings Race and Poverty L.J., 9(2), 511, 521.; Leone, et al., supra note 1. 31 Berger, et al., supra note 4; Romano, E., Babchishin, L., Marquis, R., & Fréchette, S. (2015). Childhood Maltreatment and Educational Outcomes. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 16(4), 418-437. 32 Berger, et al., supra note 4, at 115. 33 Romano, et al., supra note 37, at 434. 34 Fries, L., Klein, S., & Ballantyne, M. (2016). Are foster children’s schools of origin always best? School quality in birth vs. foster parent neighbourhoods. Child & Family Social Work, 21(3), 317-327.; Courtney, M. E., Terao, S., & Bost, N. (2004). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Conditions of youth preparing to leave state care. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.; Pecora, et al., Assessing the educational achievement, supra note 18, at 222. 35 Noonan, K., Rubin, D., Mekonnen, R., Zlotnik, S., & O’Reily, A. (2009). Securing child safety, well-being and permanency Endnotes 35

through placement stability in foster care. Center to Bridge Research, Practice and Policy, Evidence to Action No. 1, available at available at 36 Sullivan, M. J., Jones, L., & Mathiesen, S. (2010). School change, academic progress, and behavior problems in a sample of foster youth. Children and Youth Services Review 32, 164-170. 37 Webster, D., Barth, R. P., & Needell, B. (2000). Placement Stability for Children in Out-of-Home Care: A Longitudinal Analysis. Child Welfare, 79(5), 614-32. 38 Pears, K. C., Kim, H. K., & and Bucanan, R. (2015). Adverse Consequences of School Mobility for Children in Foster Care: A Prospective Longitudinal Study, Child Development, 86(4), 1210-1226 (finding that children in foster care were 6 times more likely to move than children from low socio-economic backgrounds); Melissa J. Sullivan et al., School Change, Academic Progress, and Behavior Problems in a Sample of Foster Youth, Children and Youth Services Review 32, 164, 165 (2010) (summarizing studies showing the residential mobility with an accompanying change in schools has an adverse effect on the academic achievement of foster youth); Casey Family Programs, Education Issue Brief: Improving Special Education for Children with Disabilities in Foster Care, 2 (2005), available at‌upload/ fosterclub_219.pdf. 39 Herber, Reynolds & Chen (2013). 40 Pecora, et al., Assessing the effects of foster care, supra note 18, at 43. 41 Clemens, Lalonde, Sheeslet 2016. 42 Pears, et al., supra note 38, at 1213; Fries, et al., supra note 35, at 318; Zetlin, A. G., Weinberg, L. A., & Shea, N. M. (2006). Seeing the Whole Picture: Views from Diverse Participants on Barriers to Educating Foster Youths. Children & Schools, 28(3), 165-173. 43 Katherine C. Pears, Hyoun K. Kim, and Rohanna Bucanan, Adverse Consequences of School Mobility for Children in Foster Care: A Prospective Longitudinal Study, Child Development, Vol. 86, No. 4, p. 1210-1226 (July/August 2015); Herber et. al. 2013; Cara Chambers & Erika Palmer, Educational Stability for Children in Foster Care, 26 Touro L. Rev. 1103, 1103 (2011). 44 Fernandez, E. (2008). Unravelling Emotional, Behavioural and Educational Outcomes in a Longitudinal Study of Children in Foster-Care. British Journal of Social Work, 38(7), 1283-1301. 45 Clemens, Lalonde, Sheesley 2016 at 195. 46 Zetlin, et al., supra note 51. 47 Zetlin, A., Weinberg, L., & Luderer, J. W. (2004). Problems and solutions to improving education services for children in foster care. Preventing School Failure, 48(2), 31-36. 48 Leone, et al., supra note 1, at 19. 49 Youth with disabilities in the foster care system: Barriers to success and proposed policy solutions, (2008). National Council on Disability, available at 50 Emerson, J., & Lovitt, T. (2003). The educational plight of foster children in schools and what can be done about it. Remedial and Special Education, 24(4),199.(4), 199. 51 Id. 52 Leone, et al., supra note 1, at 20. 53 Leone, et al., supra note 1, at 3. 54 Ryznar, M, & Park, C. (2010). The proper guardians of foster children’s educational interests. Loyola University of Chicago Law Journal, 42(1), 147-176. 55 Elstein et al., Achieving Permanency for Adolescents in Foster Care: A Guide for Legal Professionals 151,163 (Claire Sandt Chiamulera & Sally Small Inada eds., 2006). 56 Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy, 5(2), 547-576. 57 20 U.S.C.A. § 1414(a)(1)(D)(i)(I) (2016).; 20 U.S.C.A. § 1436(e) (2005). 58 See generally 20 U.S.C.A. § 1414 (2016). 59 20 U.S.C.A. § 1401(23) (2016). 60 20 U.S.C.A. § 1401(23)(B) (2016). 61 The Endnotes include references to the corresponding state implementing legislation, where applicable. 62 Pub. L. 101-239 (1989), § 8007(a)(1) (adding 42 U.S.C. § 675(1)(C)). 63 42 U.S.C. § 675(1)(C)(i-vii). 64 42 U.S.C. § 675(1); see also Fla. Stat. § 39.6012(2)(b). 65 Pub. L. 105-89 s. 203 (1997). CFSRs were required by the Social Security Act Amendments of 1994, but AFSA changed the focus from case file documentation requirements to efforts to measure outcomes. Social Security Act Amendments of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-432 s. 203 (1994); 45 C.F.R. s. 1355.31-37 (2003). 66 Pub. L. 114-38, (2015). 67 Pub. L. 105-29, 111 Stat 246 (1997). 68 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(30)(A-B). 69 42 U.S.C. § 675(1) (2008); see also Fla. Stat. 30.001(1)(m)(“It is also the Legislature’s intent that when children are 36 CHILDREN & YOUTH LAW CLINIC UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI SCHOOL OF LAW

removed from their homes, disruption to their education should be minimized to the extent possible.”); Fla. Stat. 39.701(2) (c)(9)(judicial review must assess educational stability.). 70 42 U.S.C. § 675(4)(A). 71 42 U.S.C. § 675(5)(H). 72 42 U.S.C. § 677(a)(7) [Young people who were adopted prior to age 16 were already eligible for ETV prior to the passage of Fostering Connections.]. 73 42 U.S.C. § 677(i)(3). 74 Pub. L. 100-77, 101 Stat 482 (1987). 75 Pub. L. 106-400, 114 Stat 1675 (2000). 76 42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2)(A). 77 42 U.S.C. § 11432. 78 Rights and Eligibility Under the McKinney-Vento and Fostering Connections Acts (2010), content/dam/aba/migrated/child/education/publications/qa_fc_and_mv_overlap_final.authcheckdam.pdf. 79 20 U.S.C. § 6301(5)(b). 80 42 U.S.C. § 721(1). 81 42 U.S.C. § 721(4). 82 20 U.S.C. § 6311(a)(1)(A). 83 42 U.S.C. §§ 11432(g)1)(J)(iii), 11432(g)(3)(A)-(B). 84 Pub. L. 112-278, 126 Stat. 2480 (2013); 20 U.S.C. § 1232g. 85 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(L) 86 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(2)(B) 87 Pub. L. 114-95, 129 Stat. 1802 (2015). 88 Pub. L. 114-95, 129 Stat. 1802 (2015). 89 20 U.S.C. § 6311(g)(1)(E)(i). 90 20 U.S.C. § 6312(C)(5)(B)(i). 91 20 U.S.C. § 6312(c)(5)(B)(ii). 92 20 U.S.C. § 6311(g)(1)(E)(iv). 93 20 U.S.C. § 6311(h)(1)(C)(ii) and (iii). 94 Fla. Stat. § 39.0016(2-3). 95 The statute applies to “children known to the department,” which is defined as children found to be dependent or in shelter care. 96 Fla. Stat. § 409.145(2)(a)(6). 97 Fla. Stat. § 409.145(2)(a)(6)(a). 98 Fla. Stat. § 409.145(2)(a)(6)(b). 99 Fla. Stat. § 1003.22. 100 Fla. Stat. § 39.201. 101 Fla. Stat. 39.0016, 39.701(c). Fla. R. Juv. Proc. 8.292. 102 Fla. Stat. 39.0016(3)(b). 103 Fla. Stat. 39.0016(3)(b). 104 20 U.S.C. § 6311(g)(1)(E)(ii); 42 U.S.C. § 675(1)(G)(ii). 105 Fla. Stat. § 39.0016(2-3); Fla. Stat. § 409.145(2)(a)(6)(b). 106 42 U.S.C. § 675(1) (2008); 20 U.S.C. § 6311(g)(1)(E)(i); Fla. Stat. 39.0016(2)(b)1(a); Fla. Stat. § 409.145(2)(a)(6); Fla. Stat. § 39.6012(2)(b)(4); Fla. Stat. § 39.701(2)(b)(9)(a). 107 Fla. Stat. 39.0016(2)(b)(2)(c). 108 Fla. Stat. § 39.0016(2)(b)(1)(c). 109 Fla. Stat. § 39.0016(2)(b)(3)(f). 110 Fla. Stat. § 39.0016(4). 111 Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Chicago, IL: Aldine; Patton, M. (2002). Qualitative interviewing. In M. Patton (Ed.), Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods (pp. 339-384). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 112 Spradley, J.(1979). The Ethnographic Interview. New York, NY: Holt, Reinhardt and Winston.

Endnotes 37


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Policies and Practices to Address the Educational Needs of Foster Children in Ten Florida Counties  

Miami Law Children & Youth Law Clinic AUTHORS Kele Stewart, Professor and Co-Director, University of Miami School of Law Children & Youth...

Policies and Practices to Address the Educational Needs of Foster Children in Ten Florida Counties  

Miami Law Children & Youth Law Clinic AUTHORS Kele Stewart, Professor and Co-Director, University of Miami School of Law Children & Youth...

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