Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Every year, thousands of young children enter foster care just as they’re getting old enough to enter school — and they face challenges in achieving success.

“On any given day upwards of 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system are living in the care of someone other than their biological parents,” the American Institutes for Research says on its Education Policy Center InformED Blog.

The post is the first in a series “examining educational challenges facing youth in foster care—early childhood into college—and some promising solutions.”

Children in foster care creates considerable instability.

“One-third of these children enter the foster care system before age five, just as they should be making the transition from preschool to kindergarten. Seventy-five percent must change schools when they enter the foster care system, and during their first year in foster care, they experience an average of three different home placements—often changing schools again and again.”

“Unfortunately, 90 percent of children in the foster care system have had their early lives disrupted by traumatic events including child abuse and neglect, exposure to domestic violence, community violence, and experiencing the violent death of a loved one, among others.”

“It’s no surprise that these young students tend to fall behind their classmates, miss more days in school, and, over time, experience lower high school graduation rates, and less success in college.”

This problem is compounded by the fact that there aren’t enough foster family placements for all the children who need them.

“We have children going night to night in homes because we really don’t have any long-term placements,” Loretta Twomey, a social worker for the Department of Children and Families, said in a article. “We’re also in need of short-term placements.”

Research suggests ways to help these children.

“Attending preschool, where children can develop social skills and adjust to classroom settings, is a protective factor against depression into middle and high school.” Unfortunately, many children in foster care don’t get this opportunity.

To better tackle this problem, the blog points to five strategies:

• “Designate an advocate to focus on the child’s educational needs.”

• “Screen all children for learning and developmental disabilities when they enter foster care.”

• “Enroll more foster children in preschool.”

• “Minimize movement from school to school,” and

• “Train foster parents in skills needed to support their foster child’s educational success.”

As the blog concludes: “Being placed in foster care is traumatic, but the emotional harm and detrimental effects on academic achievement and social skills development can be mitigated.”

Keeping children in high-quality pre-K programs can help stabilize their lives and boost their school readiness.