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The foster care system is designed to help children for whom home is not a good place, due to issues like neglect or abuse. Kids who are removed from the custody of their parents are among the most at-risk individuals in our society. Many end up in trouble or homeless. Thanks to California's recent inclusion of foster youth as a "high needs" group for purposes of school funding, the needs of these particularly vulnerable children are gaining increased attention from schools.
Less than one percent of the state's children are foster youth, and the rate varies by race and ethnicity. There are over 50,000 foster youth in California, significantly fewer than in 1998, when there were over 100,000 according to a report from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health.
African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children consistently have the highest rates of entry into foster care, exceeding one in every 150 children.
According to research supported by the Stuart Foundation, most kids placed in foster care in California remain in care for one or two years. About a third remain in foster care for three or more years.
Students in foster care face major obstacles. According to The Invisible Achievement Gap [PDF], an extensive study of foster care in California, compared to other subgroups of students foster youth were:
The state provides foster youth services and supports through county child welfare agencies and school districts. According to Wiegmann et. al., "Most students were in foster care because of neglect (78 percent). Others were in care due to physical abuse (11 percent), sexual abuse (4 percent), or for other reasons (7 percent)." (Note: California's CALPADS data system identifies fewer students in foster care than the KidsCount system. This may reflect differences in data definition and collection practices.)
There are over 50,000 foster youth in California, significantly fewer than in 1998.
Some organizations and funders have stepped up to try to make the future better for foster kids. These organizations can reasonably claim some successes. For example, First Place For Youth (a Full Circle Fund grant recipient) has made significant progress in addressing the problems of homelessness for children who "age out" of the foster care system. Imagine being an 18 year old from a troubled family, suddenly kicked out to find your own way in the world! In California, AB 12, which was passed in 2010, extended some foster care supports to youth through age 21. An organization sponsored by the John Burton Foundation, California Fostering Connections, provides extensive information about these changes and how they affect foster youth.
School districts generally assign students to schools using their address of residence; this can produce quite a bit of disruption for foster youth when they are moved from one home to another, and the paperwork can be heartbreaking. The Every Student Succeeds Act includes some "educational stability" measures to make it easier for foster youth to remain in schools when reassigned.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which has consistently invested in issues of child welfare, offers deep resources to learn more about programs designed to help vulnerable children. In California, the Stuart Foundation has also made foster youth a special focus for support and research. For data about foster youth, including statistics about the number of foster kids in your own county, check Kidsdata.org.
There are ways to support foster children. Check this list of 30 ways to help.
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