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“Needs Improvement:” Congress Takes up Foster Care Student Report Cards

October 18, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - School report cards for children in foster care usually show they are behind their peers in almost every academic measure. A U.S. Senate committee takes a closer look at the problem today, and a national town hall is set for Wednesday, featuring George Sheldon, who used to head the Florida Department of Children and Families and is now an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Daniel Heimple, project director at Fostering Media Connections, provides background on why foster children struggle in school.

"There's the trauma they may have endured, as well as move from home to home and bounce from school district to school district and can't form a stable school environment. That hurts their education."

Heimple's organization and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute are hosting the national town hall online. Teachers and students will also share ideas about how to inspire nationwide change.

Heimple says ideally, pupils in foster care should stay in the same school and, when that's not possible, national guidelines could help make transitions run more smoothly.

"At least have their records transferred rapidly, as well as be re-enrolled quickly, because a problem you have happening is big gaps in enrollment, and then these kids, unfortunately, fall behind."

He says this takes close collaboration between child-welfare and education departments, and is being done in some areas of the country.

In Baltimore, social workers have access to school emergency contact cards to help place children with nearby friends and relatives. The program also alerts school officials to meet with affected pupils right away to identify problems that could impair academic achievement.

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee takes up the Elementary and Secondary Education Act today; it includes an amendment focused on improving educational outcomes for students in foster care.

The town hall is at 3 p.m. Eastern, Wed., Oct. 19, at ht.ly/70bEF

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - FL