There are about 6,000 foster care children who attend DOE schools each year, a report released by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and the Legal Aid Society yesterday found, yet there is no one responsible at the city’s Department of Education (DOE) to make sure their needs are met.
Most of the children in foster care are Black and come from low-income neighborhoods. According to the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), 1,922 of those 6,000 students are in foster care in Brooklyn.
“School has the potential to be an important stabilizing force in the lives of students in foster care,” the report reads. “Currently, the DOE does not have an office, team, or even a single staff member dedicated to supporting youth in foster care, a group of students particularly in need of specialized support. In a system with tens of thousands of employees, there is no one whose job is to make sure City schools are meeting the needs of students in foster care. As a result, the DOE often overlooks one of the student populations that needs support the most.”
According to the report, only 42.2% of foster care students graduated from high school on time in 2020, which is the lowest rate for any student group. More than 20% repeat a grade, and the amount of time the average foster care student loses school time equals to one-and-a-half months. More than half of these foster care students have an IEP (Individualized Education Program).
The advocates are urging the Department of Education to create an office specifically for the city’s foster care children. This comes three years after the Interagency Foster Care Task Force recommended the DOE to do so as well.
“It’s been three years, and we’ve been pushing this for a while,” says Erika Palmer, the supervising attorney at AFC who worked on this report. “With the federal and state funding the DOE will be getting, we think it’s a particularly perfect time for them to move forward with this.”
Back in March 2018, the Interagency Foster Care Task Force, which includes the ACS and the DOE Chief Operating Officer, recommended that the DOE create an office that would focus on foster care students. The DOE already has the Office of Students in Temporary Housing, which provides staff at the Central, borough, and school levels to help work with students in foster care. This particular office also provides mentoring programs, free transportation, and attendance monitoring in accordance with Chancellor’s Regulation A-750.
But the Task Force would like to see an office that would “‘oversee and advise a team of borough-based foster care content experts responsible for field support and case consultation’ to provide schools with support and professional development with respect to the unique needs and legal rights of students in care” according to yesterday’s report.
That includes, developing and applying policies particularly for foster care students, supporting parent involvement while the children are in foster care, training school staff to support these children and their families, and improve their education outcomes, as per the report.
Nathaniel Styer, the deputy press secretary at the DOE, countered in an emailed statement that “we have designated school-based staff at every level of the DOE focused on providing them with stability and continuity in their home school communities. We deeply appreciate Advocates for Children for their advocacy on behalf of this student population and we will review this proposal and continue to support our students in foster care.”
“I’m glad they are looking into this,” Palmer says. “I know they [DOE] have good intentions. This is an unprecedented opportunity for the DOE, and we will continue to push for this, and continue to push for what these children need and deserve.” This report comes as the DOE’s budget is expected to increase by $1 billion by 2023.
“During the last three years, ACS significantly increased specialized education and employment programming for older youth through our Office of Education and Employment Initiatives and partnerships with DOE, DYCD, CUNY, and other partners,” Marisa Kaufman, a spokesperson for the ACS told Bklyner. “Youth are receiving specialized tutoring and participating in mentored internships, summer youth employment, career clubs, college readiness programs, the Fostering College Success Initiative and more. We will continue to work closely with the DOE on behalf of students in foster care.”
However, funding for Fair Futures, a program that provides mentoring for foster care children was not included in the Executive FY2022 Budget. As one former foster care child told Bklyner last year, such children are in much need of someone to care for them. Back in January, Fair Futures urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to maintain funding for the program.
“To rip away their support now is unconscionable,” the Fair Futures Campaign said in response to the proposed executive budget on April 26th. “Fair Futures coaches, tutors and specialists are there to help with everything from navigating the economic devastation caused by COVID-19 to finding mental health resources and safe housing, and most importantly letting foster youth know that they are not alone and someone is in their corner every step of the way. New York City’s foster youth don’t need any more broken promises.”