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Building a Research Agenda to Improve Education Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster Care: What the Experts Say

By BethAnn Berliner, Nicole Lezin


The half-million children and youth in the foster care system in the United States are twice as likely as their peers outside the system to leave high school without a diploma. They experience higher rates of absenteeism, grade retention, and disciplinary referrals, and are significantly overrepresented in special education programs.

Life for foster children and youth doesn’t get better once they leave the system. By the time they are 22 years old, 51 percent are unemployed, 25 percent are homeless, and nearly 20 percent are incarcerated.

Quality schooling can’t overcome all the obstacles facing foster students, but it can provide needed stability and positive interactions with peers, adults, and institutions. However, America’s educators and institutions have a scant research base to draw on when creating and implementing education strategies specifically for children and youth in foster care.

Creating a plan to research how to better serve foster children in school would help fulfill society’s obligation in caring for these children.

This Policy Perspectives paper, written by WestEd Senior Research Associate BethAnn Berliner and Nicole Lezin, makes the case for developing a research agenda — a first step toward improving policy and practice.

The paper summarizes the viewpoints of foster care experts nationwide on school readiness, school success, and sharing data among stakeholders and systems to better serve foster children.

The paper also includes a series of research questions intended as starting points for laying the groundwork to strengthen policy and practice.

Resource Details

Product Information

Product #: PP-12-01
Copyright: 2012
Format: PDF
Pages: 12
Publisher: WestEd