What LEAs can do to support foster youth and prepare them for the future

Report incorporates foster youth voices to reimagine extended foster care
a teacher and student smile as they look at studying material on a screen

A new report details the significant overhaul needed across sectors to better support and prepare those exiting the foster care system as they transition into adulthood — and schools can play an important role in reinforcing this work.

Released in January by the Institute for the Future, Youth Law Center and California Youth Connection, On the Threshold of Change: Forces that could transform future conditions for youth in Extended Foster Care (EFC) notes that a pandemic, rapidly advancing technology, climate crises, economic, workforce, housing and societal changes and more — circumstances that could never have been imagined by policymakers a decade ago — are already dramatically impacting foster youth transitioning to adulthood, while outdated systems have struggled to respond.

For the more than 600,00 youth who pass through the foster care system each year — including those who remain in foster care until adulthood — additional support is needed as they make the transition to adulthood.

Noting the importance of the education sector in supporting children in the foster care system, Youth Law Center Senior Policy Director Jenny Pokempner provided CSBA with 10 specific recommendations for local educational agencies:

  1. Adopt a student-first, strengths-based approach to working with young people impacted by the child welfare system.
  2. Prioritize opportunities for youth impacted by the child welfare system to become digital experts as part of their instruction.
  3. Provide information to youth in foster care (and those in probation-supervised foster care) about extended foster care and help them access the program as part of their preparation for graduation.
  4. Involve families — natural, foster, extended and chosen — in educational opportunities and provide them support to do so, including making sure they have an educational decision-maker.
  5. Create opportunities through school and community partnerships for youth to explore meaningful work/careers that will be abundant in the future and that can contribute to their sense of optimism/life purpose/future financial stability.
  6. Bring in community and corporate partners to work with schools and youth so youth develop relationships and are embedded in community support.
  7. Partner with child welfare and probation agencies to discuss plans for supporting students through climate emergencies to minimize disruptions.
  8. Work to create an array of holistic, creative behavioral health supports for students to support their mental health.
  9. Reduce barriers to school access and success by ensuring that enrollment, placement, and graduation policies and processes are streamlined, student-centered and comply with state law.
  10. Ask schools to join the charge to ensure every student is connected with family — their own and/or resource families — and that those families are supported by the districts and schools.
Breaking down the report
While the shift to extend foster care was intended to be a safety net for the most vulnerable youth exiting the foster care system — a way of providing the family and community relationships, concrete economic supports and other resources, and connections to the supports and services that would ensure a successful transition out of foster care to adulthood — many youth who have experienced extended foster stays continue to experience homelessness, incarceration, mental and physical health challenges, loneliness and isolation while in care and after they age out.

Foster youth already disproportionately experience homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, sexual exploitation and violence, and lag behind their peers in nearly all well-being, educational, post-secondary, economic and health measures.

The extreme challenges faced by youth during the pandemic, in the changing economy and during recent climate disasters highlighted the immediate need to reimagine foster care to better support and prepare youth for a future in a world that has dramatically changed over the past decade, researchers wrote.