“Of all the difficulties foster children experience, low academic achievement may have the most serious consequences for their futures.” —Finkelstein et al., 2002
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If you’re a child welfare worker, you may be surprised by this statement. If you’ve seen with your own eyes how powerfully some children are affected by abuse and neglect, you may even be tempted to dismiss this statement as exaggeration or just plain wrong.
Before you jump to conclusions, however, consider what we know on the subject. For example, there is a mountain of evidence to support the idea that, as a group, children involved with the child welfare system—especially those in foster care—have a particularly hard time in school. Numerous findings from research also support the idea that academic failure can have severe and far-reaching consequences for any child. For example, school failure has been linked to:
- Poverty in later life
- Early involvement in sexual intercourse and increased risk of STDs
- Higher health care costs, mortality rates, and incidence of suicide
- More frequent admissions to state mental hospitals
- Increased use of social services, including economic assistance
In addition, evidence suggests that school failure hurts society as a whole by contributing to increased crime, reduced political participation, loss of national income and tax revenues, and general waste of human potential (Rosenfeld & Richman, 2004; Richman & Bowen, 1997).
Through law and mechanisms such as the Child and Family Services Reviews, the federal government makes it clear that as part of their efforts to ensure child well-being, child welfare agencies must meet the educational needs of the children they serve.
Unfortunately, this responsibility is sometimes overlooked. When Finkelstein and her colleagues (2002) interviewed key players in the lives of foster children, the child welfare workers they spoke with admitted they focus more on crises than on children’s progress in school.
That’s not surprising. From its very beginnings, the primary focus of our profession has been on protecting children from abuse and neglect. It is a difficult, demanding task that dominates the culture of child welfare, threatening to overshadow the less familiar job of promoting school success. Other factors, including high caseloads, worker turnover, and mistrust between schools and child welfare agencies can further complicate matters.
To support you as you seek to help children succeed in school, this issue of Practice Notes presents information about the school-related needs of children involved with the child welfare system and educational strategies and resources. It also features advice from a school social worker on how to forge and maintain successful partnerships with schools.