While acknowledging the complexity of the foster youth system and the steep learning curve confronting districts, the report identifies obstacles facing educators as they try to meet the needs of foster youth. For example, the Foster Youth Services (FYS) program has a narrow definition of foster youth, resulting in some youth not having access to FYS counseling and tutoring services. While the LCFF has a broader definition of foster youth, few districts have programs to fill the service gap. “County Offices of Education have to withhold or pull services when kids are lucky enough to have a relative stand up and have the student live with them,” explained Daniel C. Humphrey, Ed.D., senior researcher, SRI Education’s Center for Education Policy and co-author of the report. “This makes no sense.”
The report also found that California lacks a comprehensive data system to track foster youth. While a system is under development, it seriously undercounts foster youth and does not provide educational data needed to determine what supports are necessary. As a result, school districts are scrambling to identify foster youth and gather their educational records.
Data sharing problems faced by County Offices of Education (COEs), school districts, and welfare agencies are also highlighted in the report. Foster youth are far more likely to transfer schools than other students and without timely information sharing foster youth face barriers to their academic progress. Although AB 490 (the Educational Rights and Stability for Foster Youth Act) sets expectations for two-day transfer of educational records, immediate enrollment, and other educational rights, data sharing problems persist.
Despite the obstacles, educators and others working with foster youth expressed optimism about the potential of the LCFF to help meet the needs of this population. Through district case studies, the report highlights local strategies to improve school stability, add counseling and tutoring programs, strengthen advocacy, change school climate for foster youth, and provide relevant professional development to school staff.
As Julia E. Koppich, co-author of the report, concluded, “The LCFF has brought new and much needed attention to California’s foster youth. As one of our interviewees argued, the LCFF has ‘pulled back the curtain’ on this often invisible population of students.”
Humphrey and Koppich will present the report’s findings at a legislative briefing on foster youth and the achievement gap hosted by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, Ph.D., on March 11th at the California State Capitol in Sacramento.
The report, Foster Youth and the Early Implementation of the LCFF: Not Yet Making the Grade, was commissioned by the National Center for Youth Law and its funders, including the Walter S. Johnson Foundation.