Term Paper: Educational Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care

Pages: 6 (1846 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Children  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … child as they flourish into adulthood. Home life, education of parents, stability in the child's life, the socio-economic placement of the home, and the presence of abuse, just to name a few can be instrumental in determining the outcome of a child. Yet, stories pour out from all different types of media outlets, including books, magazines, even movies of how one made brilliant accomplishments despite their home life or socio-economic barriers. Conversely, the opposite is true and we are also inundated with the stories of those who had every possibility afforded to them, yet their lives ended in tragedy. Both sides are the story are of the extraordinary, not the stories of the common child who grow up in an impoverished state. In all actuality, children growing up in impoverished neighborhoods will have lower rates of high school graduation and will experience more depression than children from affluent neighborhoods. This becomes even more apparent if children are in foster care services.

For a child in foster care, the challenges, rather than opportunities, can seem limitless. Many children in foster care have to deal with the trauma of being uprooted from their original families, where their home life must have been less than ideal to be placed in foster care services in the first place. Next, they deal with the possibility of being removed from friends and community to be placed in a foster home, and the emotional disturbance that resonates due to being put in the above positions. But also quite unique to the foster child is the experience of being completely dependent on the state until the age of 18, at which point all support ends, and does so abruptly. When this time comes, many foster children are not equipped to deal with the reality of taking care of themselves, without any help or support, and more often than not, not educated to the point of being having productive and sustainable lives.

"Studies show that foster youth have academic problems including low high school completion rates, grade repetition, lower scores on standardized tests, and they are more likely to be placed in special education than non-foster youth (Courtney et al., 2001, 2004; Goerge & Van Voorhis, 1992; Shin, 2003). This research reports that only 37% to 55% of youth in care earn a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma before exiting the foster care system." (Sullivan, 2009) These alarming numbers show a disproportionate amount of underachievement in comparison to the general population, which has about a 10% rate of non-completion from high school. Although, it has been suggested through other studies that many foster care children may graduate later than the general population, thus potentially skewing the numbers of foster care children graduates if surveyed at age 18. (Anne Havalchak, 2009)

Foster children also have a higher occurrence of behavior and emotional problems than even "high risk" youth ("high risk" defined as youth from single parent and poverty stricken homes). They also experienced a higher rate of learning disabilities and physical issues that facilitated in their inability to properly reap the benefits while seeking their educations. Quite a few of these issues can be attributed to childhood depravation, maltreatment of the child in their original or foster home, the number of school changes the child is expected to endure, and the lack of educational support when entering into a new school.

Documented as an educational risk factor, the changing of schools can be detrimental to a child's ability to develop. "Foster youth on average move twice as often during their school years as non-foster youth (Eckenrode, Rowe, Laird & Brathwaite, 1995). In Wisconsin, foster youth studied indicated that they were placed in an average of four to six out-of-home care settings (Courtney et al., 2001). Nearly one-third of California foster children in a large sample

(n=12,306) had experienced five or more placements (Needell et al.,2002)." (Sullivan, 2009)

The emotional stress of moving from school to school during a child's school year will be addressed in further detail below, but there is a tactical issue of moving so frequently as well. Children who move from school to school often have the challenge of "starting fresh" every time, and not always in a positive manner. For example, a child that moves from one school district to another depends on their transcripts to arrive in a timely manner. This is not always the case, and what's more, when the transcripts do arrive, credits from one school may not transfer over, thus creating a deficit in credits needed in order to graduate. Also, requirements for graduation vary from district to district, so a student could become increasingly behind with every move.

The emotional issues of moving frequently are no less intrusive. Due to the mobility of a child in foster care, it can hinder their ability to develop basic, yet very important relationship predictors that will enable them to have a healthy life and foster healthy relationships in the future. "Frequent placement change is disruptive of continuity throughout the school years. Continuity is defined as interactions by adults directed at youth that are predictable, appropriate, and occur over an extended period time. This pattern of interaction is necessary for the youth to believe that they have relationships on which they can depend and anticipate (Wahler, 1994). Continuity is essential for youth who have a history of disrupted relationships with their families, experience with multiple placements, and who for one reason or other have many different transitory relationships with helping professionals. School provides an arena for healthy development for most children, and for some at-risk children school is a place of safety. Children can find potential social support in relationships with school-based peers and teachers, and thus schools can provide protective buffers to the risks encountered elsewhere." (Sullivan, 2009) but many of these benefits cannot be reaped when the student is in the position of changing frequently enough that they are not able to build real, lasting relationships that might have an impact on their success and achievement.

The impact to the child's emotional development, educational ability, and stability are all intertwined with their mental health. The levels of depression and emotional disturbance also increase in Foster Care children in comparison to the general population. "Comparisons of mental health outcomes of the general population in previous research provide clear evidence of elevated mental health problems in the care population. It is critical to understand why this is so and what responses are needed. Children in care experience a number of adversities which threaten their well-being. The combination of established factors, such as parental characteristics, maltreatment histories as well as experiences resulting from protective care interventions such as volatile placement trajectories, disrupted attachments and interrupted schooling experiences, influences emotional and behavioral outcomes (Stanley et al., 2005)." (Fernandez, 2008)

Many of the issues cited in the study by Fernandez include the internalizing and externalizing of problems, aggressive behavior, anxiety and depression, attention problems, delinquent behavior, social problems, somatic complaints, thought problems and being withdrawn. These issues tended to be more prevalent in the younger children studied and in girls over boys. But in the same study, there have been positive outcomes if problem children are identified as having issues early, and having the appropriate steps taken to remedy their issues, including nurturing care givers and benefiting from psychological therapy.

"The research into outcomes for young people and children in care has, in recent years, turned to the 'success stories' -- the positive accounts of those children who, despite being in a group usually considered to be disadvantaged and 'at risk' of failure, have done well (Jackson et al., 2005). There were individual children in this study who were rated by teachers in the higher percentile ranges (Table 7) on academic performance and learning. The psychological resilience of these children has become a central tenet of discussion in this area." (Gilligan, 2001; Jackson, 2001) (Fernandez, 2008)

The emotional well being of a child directly affects their abilities as a student. A child- whether in foster care or not- that is depressed or under emotional strain will not always perform to their optimum level. This only further exacerbates the issues with a foster care child, who already may have numerous school moves and their differing expectations for graduation to contend with, amongst other emotional issues. Although poor performance in school is not mutually exclusive with depression or other signs of mental instability, it further compounds the issues for the student to contend with, and makes the problems seem even that more insurmountable.

At age 18, if a foster care child has completed their education or not, support from the state ceases. At this point they are considered adults, although they may not be emotionally or educationally prepared for such a prospect. Foster care children that transition into adulthood without the proper education and emotional foundation to do so are at risk of unemployment, or working at very low paying jobs, and of being dependent on… [END OF PREVIEW]

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