Judicial Considerations for Implementing Fostering Connections: Education Stability and Continuity

American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law's Legal Center for Foster Care and Education

Summary: The importance of ensuring the educational stability for youth in foster care that is mandated by the Fostering Connections to Success Act and the role of the courts and community in this process.

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Children in foster care need a solid education to help ensure a successful future. Unfortunately, however, research demonstrates most children and youth in the foster care system have poor education outcomes. Prioritizing education not only improves education outcomes, but can also help achieve permanency for children in foster care. Youth who are on track educationally, attending school regularly, and not having behavior problems at school can return home more quickly or find permanent families than youth who are having multiple school problems.

Fostering Connections

Recognizing the need to prioritize education, Fostering Connections places clear mandates around education on child welfare agencies. Federal law has long required that a child be placed within reasonable proximity of the child’s home and that proximity to the child’s school be considered when making all placement decisions. Fostering Connections took the additional step to require that both proximity and appropriateness of the educational setting be considered when making all placement decisions. Fostering Connections also requires child welfare agencies to coordinate with local education agencies to ensure that children remain in the same school at the time of placement, unless it would not be in their best interest to remain in the same school. If it is not in the child’s best interest to remain in the school at the time of placement, the state must ensure immediate enrollment in a new school with all of the educational records of the child provided to that new school. To access a factsheet about the education provisions of the Act, see: Q&A: Education Provisions of the Fostering Connections Act.

Fostering Connections also allows for some federal reimbursement for Title IV-E eligible school-age children for the cost of reasonable transportation so the child can remain in the school in which he or she is enrolled at the time of placement under the definition of foster care maintenance payment. States were previously (and continue to be) able to receive some federal reimbursement for school transportation, as well as transportation for parents, foster parents, or children to school meetings or extracurricular events, as an administrative cost. For more information about transportation costs, see: When School Stability Requires Transportation: State Implementation Considerations.

Finally, states are now required under Fostering Connections to ensure all Title IV-E eligible children in foster care, or receiving kinship guardianship or adoption assistance payments, are full-time students or have completed secondary school.

What You Can Do in Your Community

Appropriate implementation of Fostering Connections requires collaboration between child welfare and education agencies. The court can play a vital leadership role in ensuring collaboration between the state education agency, child welfare agency, local school districts and possibly other systems. Judges can play a key leadership role as conveners of multiple systems, in a broader context of system reform. For example:

  • Consider adding education issues to the scope of an existing, or forming a new, interagency workgroup or committee and strategize how child welfare, education and other systems can effectively collaborate to ensure school stability and continuity and increase graduation rates and/or high school completion. For an example of a successful court-ordered committee, see: Texas Education Committee of the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families.
  • Consider having that interagency group develop policies, protocols or agreements outlining the agreed upon process for making best interest determinations (including factors to consider and individuals to involve), expedited enrollment procedures, record transfer processes, and identifying education decision makers.

What You Can Do in the Courtroom

Throughout a child’s stay in foster care, addressing education in the courtroom at each hearing can ensure that the child’s education needs are being met and that they remain stable and receive the supports they need. Some issues that may need to be addressed include:

  • Education Decision-Maker: The person who has the legal authority to make education decisions on behalf of the child should be identified and documented at every hearing. In most cases, that individual should be the child’s parent, but in some cases another individual may be most appropriate. For children in special education, additional considerations apply. (See Special Education Decision-making Series at www.abanet.org/child/education/publications/specialeducation.html).
  • Education Stability and Continuity: At initial hearings, particular attention needs to be paid to where the child has been attending school and how to keep, or put, the child on track. Judges and attorneys should be asking questions about school stability (can the child remain in their original school; is transportation necessary) and, when changes must occur, how to make those changes with the least amount of disruption to the child as possible. See: Judicial Considerations Around Implementing the Fostering Connections Act, page 26.
  • General Education Issues: Information needs to be gathered on how the child is doing in school (grades, attendance, behavior, etc.) and if there are any needs or gaps that should be addressed, including engagement in both academic and extracurricular activities.
  • Special Education Issues: If the child is receiving, or needs to be receiving, special education services, additional attention needs to be paid to the child’s individualized education program (IEP) and whether there has been appropriate review and identification of the child’s needs and services.

When addressing education issues, the court’s specific authority over the education agency may vary by state or jurisdiction, and impact whether the court can order the education agency to comply. However, regardless of the court’s authority over the schools, in all cases judges can grant motions by parties to the case to request that the education agency or local school district representative appear to respond to questions or provide information to the court.

For a full checklist and technical assistance guide for judges around education, please see: Judicial Checklist to Meet the Educational Needs of Children in Foster Care.      

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