K-12

New report underscores education problems in institutions for foster youth

Advocacy groups call for Pennsylvania state government to step up oversight of residential facilities

Oliver Francis, of Philadelphia, was placed in foster care because he was truant. He graduated from George Junior Republic, a residential school in Grove City, Pennsylvania, this spring.

Oliver Francis, who was placed in foster care because he was truant, graduated this year from George Junior Republic, in Grove City, Pennsylvania. A new report says the state of Pennsylvania ought to be doing more to oversee such facilities serving foster and delinquent children.

Residential facilities in Pennsylvania are doing an inadequate job of educating foster children in their care, according to a new report from Children’s Rights and the Education Law Center. The advocacy groups are calling for greater state oversight of these facilities, which were the topic of an investigation last month by The Hechinger Report/HuffPost.

Children attending school in these facilities are often taught in classrooms with multiple grades, sometimes by uncertified instructors, and very often receive assignments that are below grade level, the report says. If students exit the facilities and go on to attend public schools, their credits may not transfer over.

“Pennsylvania’s residential facilities have not only put these children in harm’s way, but have severely undermined their educational opportunities and in many cases deprived them of a meaningful education,” Maura McInerney, legal director of the Education Law Center, said in a statement. “Pennsylvania is failing our most vulnerable children, and PA-DHS and PDE [the state departments of human services and education] must work together to fix this.”

The report cites a 2013 study commissioned by the School District of Philadelphia that identifies “major concerns” with the quality of education provided by three residential facilities in the state. The internal report, first obtained by The Hechinger Report/HuffPost, cites “lack of academic rigor and linkage to academic standards” and says that education in these institutions is a “missed opportunity” for students. It also cites lack of compliance with special education laws and other concerns.

In Pennsylvania, 47 percent of young people in foster care ages 14 to 21 spend time in these facilities, compared to 34 nationwide, according to a study published in November by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Pennsylvania state law guarantees foster children in institutions the right to attend public schools under most circumstances.

But the report released today suggests that many of these foster children are attending on-grounds schools in lieu of public schools. A 2013 study cited in the report, issued by the state Educational Success and Truancy Prevention Taskforce, found that of 42 county teams that responded, nearly 79 percent said that foster youth “sometimes” or “rarely” enrolled in local public schools. Only 2.4 percent said that children in institutions “always” received education that was equal to that provided in public schools.

In addition to examining schooling, the study also explores safety concerns at residential facilities. Children in institutions in Pennsylvania were physically maltreated at least 156 times over an eight-year period beginning in May 2010, including 114 times by staff, according to a review of publicly available data.

To improve the schooling of foster youth, the report recommends that the state education agency ensure that kids can attend public schools, adopt clear standards and curriculums for residential schools and step up its monitoring of these institutions.

This story about educating foster children was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

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Caroline Preston

Caroline Preston is a senior editor. She previously worked as a features editor with Al Jazeera America's digital team and a senior reporter with The… See Archive

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