Report: Indiana’s outsized foster population lags educationally

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The Indiana Lawyer on 4/10/2019 by Dave Stafford

Indiana, which places a greater percentage of its children in the foster care system than almost any other state, must take steps to close educational shortcomings for children in the system, according to a first-of-its-kind report released recently that details a wide achievement gap.

Only 64.6 percent of high school seniors who were in foster care graduated in 2018, compared to an overall graduation rate of 88.1 percent, according to the inaugural Annual Report on Foster Care Youth Educational Outcomes released this month.

Likewise, foster student performance on ISTEP tests is significantly lower than that of all students. In grades 3-8, children in foster care pass the ISTEP English/Language Arts tests at rates roughly 20 percentage points lower than that of all students. Further, 38.3 percent of those in foster care pass the ISTEP math test in grades 3-8, compared with 58.3 percent of all students.

The report also shows the test score achievement gap widens as children age. By grade 10, the study shows, just 9.1 percent of children in foster care pass the math portion of ISTEP on their first try, compared to an overall first-try pass rate of 36.2 percent.

The report from the Indiana Department of Education in collaboration with the Department of Child Services is now required annually under Indiana Code section 20-19-3-18. It also explores educational performance of homeless children.

“To meet all the physical, developmental, emotional, and social needs of youth in the foster care system, we must design and implement a unified, collaborative response in every community,” the report says. “By June 30, 2019, the IDOE, in collaboration with the DCS, will develop a comprehensive report detailing the necessary steps to improving educational outcomes for this vulnerable student population.”

“…(T)hough there is some overlap with the challenges for homeless and foster care youth, it is necessary to develop strategies and interventions unique to the traumatic experiences of these children,” the report concludes. “Additionally, IDOE and DCS must address how to better report and collect foster care data in an accurate, streamlined process.”

The report puts numbers to long-known educational obstacles confronting children in the foster care system. The establishment of the report is among the many child welfare reforms the state enacted in 2018.

Among the report’s findings:

More than twice as many foster students from grades pre-K through 11 were retained a grade (3.9 percent) compared to all students (1.8 percent).
Almost 41 percent of foster children in pre-K were not promoted to kindergarten.
Roughly 21 percent of foster children were suspended, compared with 8.9 percent for all students. Foster students were expelled at nearly twice the rate of all students.

Based on an Indiana Lawyer analysis of data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center and census statistics, Indiana places a greater percentage of children in foster care than any state except West Virginia. For the year 2017, 1.3 percent of all Hoosier children were in foster care, while the rate for the Mountain State was 1.8 percent.

Indiana places children in foster care at more than twice the national rate of 0.6 percent. The Kids Count Data Center reports the Hoosier State in 2017 placed about the same number of children in foster care as did the state of New York, which has a population more than three times that of Indiana’s.

By sheer number, the 20,904 Hoosier minors placed in the state’s foster care system in 2017 were exceeded only by California, Texas and Florida — the nation’s three most populous states. States nearest in population to Indiana — Massachusetts, Tennessee, Missouri and Maryland — placed significantly fewer children in the system. Those states placed 3,923 to 12,390 children in foster care in 2017, according to the Casey Foundation.

Indiana also places significantly more children in foster care than its much more populous neighbors. For example, Illinois — with a population about twice that of Indiana — placed almost 5,000 fewer children than Indiana in the foster care system in 2017. Ohio, whose population is 5 million people greater than Indiana’s, placed nearly 6,000 fewer children in foster care in 2017.