This originally appeared Jefferson County Public Schools’ Envision Equity May 2018 issue.
By Karena Cash
Last year, I had the opportunity to tutor a young girl in foster care, Jaden*. Whenever I first met her, I was blown away at how much she struggled at basic division problems. She was in fifth grade, so she must know thirty divided by six, right? I simply thought that she didn’t pay attention in school.
As the months trickled on, however, I learned that she was in foster care and had moved homes three times over a two-year period. Each new placement caused her to move to a new school, each of which were at a different place in the curriculum. In addition to this, it took weeks in order for her to be enrolled in a new school and records transferred. The reason she didn’t know how to divide is that she had never been taught. Not only that, but she had fallen so behind that she felt like there was no reason to even try.
Further, she never bothered to make friends at any of these schools. In her mind, it was impossible to catch up or form lasting relationships, and even if she did manage to, she’d just move schools again in a few months anyways, so what was the point? This cycle repeated. Three months into me tutoring her she moved schools again.
Like many, I started my junior year with the idea that you just need to pull up your bootstraps and get
to work. In reality, though, this is often never the case. I quickly learned that the lack of stability in Jaden’s life meant that she didn’t have bootstraps to begin with. She had no stable home, no stable relationships, and no stable education. She faced deep trauma from the abuse and neglect she suffered at the hands of her parents. Her family home created a situation in which she not only acted out as a response to trauma, but also found no skills on how to cope with her environment.
Jaden is not an anomaly in the foster care system. She is not someone from whom we can write off as a lost cause, because she never was one. She is one of many foster children in Kentucky who share the same experiences of neglect on behalf of failed foster care polices.
Stability is the key for kids to fully develop emotionally, physically, and academically. For foster children, this stability can often only be found in the school setting. In recognition of this, the Kentucky Legislative recently passed House Bill 527.
HB 527, sponsored by Representative Steve Riley, does three major things to help kids like Jaden. First, it spells out the process for determining if a child placed in foster care should remain in the same school. It does this by looking at what the best interest of the child is, taking into consideration things like transportation time and a child’s relationships with others. When it is in the best interest of a child to remain in their same school, it clarifies how transportation to the current school will be handled. This ensures that children can continue to attend the school that they are familiar with, have a continuous curriculum, and maintain the relationships they already have.
However, if it is in the best interest of the child to move schools, the bill requires that children in foster care be immediately enrolled in a new school and that their most essential records be transferred within three working days. This deadline allows them to adjust to their new environment as soon as possible. That way foster children can begin to catch up on school work and build relationships with other students and teachers. Overall, these measures help give foster children school stability in the long run.
As educators, we cannot continue to allow this instability to be the norm. We must halt the progression of failing children in foster care. We cannot continue to have an average of three different placements be the norm. We cannot continue to allow graduation rates of children in foster care hovering around 50% be the norm.
While some instability will always be inevitable for foster care children, we must work to prevent as much of it as possible. By prioritizing school stability, we give them a stable environment, stable relationships, and stable access to education. All of these policies have the potential to counteract years of abuse and neglect that often stem from foster care. As educators, it is crucial that we understand the need for stability for youth in foster care and our role in ensuring their success.
Karena Cash is a freshman at Xavier University where she studies Philosophy, Politics, and the Public. She is involved in various organizations, such as Campus YMCA Congress and Xavier’s Community Engaged Fellowship. Her goal is to eventually lobby for various issues across Kentucky.
*Name changed to protect identity.