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Foster Care Advocates Press for Greater Focus on Education

Advocates for foster children say school performance is too often an afterthought in placement hearings. (Voices Youth Center/Mitchell Findley)
Advocates for foster children say school performance is too often an afterthought in placement hearings. (Voices Youth Center/Mitchell Findley)
December 9, 2019

LAS VEGAS – Truancy rates are high and graduation rates are low – especially for Nevada's 4,200 children in foster care – and child advocates say systemic change is needed.

Research shows that 47.5% of foster children in Clark County fail to graduate high school.

Kelly Venci Gonzalez, team chief of the Education Advocacy Program, part of the Children's Attorneys Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, contends that many of those children have undiagnosed learning disabilities, which can lead to school absences, poor grades and despair.

"If they're just either failing or passing kids through, and not really analyzing why a kid is failing, we think that's contributing to the truancy issue," she states.

Two laws passed this year may make a dent in the problem. One bill requires courts to appoint an education decision maker for each foster child. The other bill requires individual education plans to be attached to each child's legal case file.

Venci Gonzalez says it should be standard practice for judges at each hearing to ask how a foster child is doing in school, but she says school is often an afterthought.

Venci Gonzalez notes that in 2018 the Silver State's high school graduation rate ranked 49th in the nation.

"And I think it's a symptom of that,” she asserts. “We need to take school more seriously, especially for our vulnerable kids."

When a student is absent for more than 10 days, the school district will make a report of educational neglect.

In Clark County, 2,000 such reports were filed in last year alone. So, advocates say they'd like to see the Department of Family Services establish a unit dedicated to educational attainment.

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Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV