Q Do I have the right to attend school?

Yes! Your right to go to school lasts until your 22nd birthday, or until you get a high school diploma—whichever comes first. In Massachusetts, you have to go to school until you are 16 years old. You may be able to remain in your school even if you move to a different town. If you change school, you have the right to enroll and start classes there immediately.

If someone tells you that you cannot go to school, or tells you that you must change schools, tell your foster parent and/or contact your social worker, lawyer, or the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (1-888-KIDLAWs) for help. If your school keeps you out of school for a day or more (suspends you) or tries to keep you out of school permanently (expels you) for breaking a school rule, contact your social worker, lawyer, or the Children's Law Center. They may be able to work things out so you can stay at that school and not miss classes or important exams.  

Q If I haven’t graduated from high school by the time I turn 18, can I still go to school?

Yes. Your right to attend school in Massachusetts lasts until your 22nd birthday.  If someone tells you that you cannot go to school, tell your foster parent and/or contact your social worker, lawyer, or the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (1-888-KIDLAW8) to see if they can help you.

Q Do I have to change schools if I change homes?

As a youth in foster care, you may have a right to stay in your school, even if you move out of that school district. Talk to your social worker and lawyer about getting permission from DCF and your school to stay in your school and about whether transportation can be arranged to get you safely to and from school.

On the other hand, if you move towns and you want to change schools, you may be able to do that, too. Either way let your voice be heard in the decision of where you go to school!

Q What do I do if my school suspends me or tries to expel me?

All schools have student handbooks which describe all the rules in the school. If your school suspends you, it means because you have broken a school rule, you will be told that you cannot attend school for a certain number of days, usually under 10 days.

If you are told you may be expelled, it means that the school believes you have violated a more serious rule which could keep you out of that school permanently.

If you have been suspended or threatened with expulsion, it is very important to talk immediately to your social worker and lawyer. They may be able to work things out so you can stay in school and won’t miss classes. Also let the Judge know. The Judge will want to make sure you stay in school and graduate.

Q Can I get help to make sure I graduate from high school?

If you are worried that you are not going to graduate from high school, contact the school guidance counselor. Your school may be able to give you the extra help you need or your counselor may know about other ways to get help outside of the school. If you have not done well on the MCAS, the school is required to offer you help. Make sure your social worker assists you in getting this help if the school does not offer help to you.

If you passed all your high school course requirements, but have not passed the MCAS, you do NOT need to keep going to high school in order to get your diploma. You can simply retake the MCAS in order to meet that requirement for a high school diploma.

Contact your local One Stop Career Center to set up an appointment and learn about the options. Through these centers, you can be set up with tutoring at a local community college. After tutoring, you go back to your high school to take the test. The retake dates are usually in November and March. If you pass, you will be eligible to receive your diploma from your high school!

Q Who can help me prepare for the MCAS?

  • MCAS stands for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. It is a test that all students take. Your school, DCF, and your lawyer can help you find help to prepare for the MCAS test. You can also look up information on the Internet:
  • Check out this website from the Department of Education. It has free practice tests, answer keys, student work examples, and information about the MCAS graduation requirements.

Q What if I need extra help that I’m not getting in school?

If you think you need extra help in school, you can request that the school evaluate you for special education services. This means, they give you tests and interview you to see if they can give you special support. Talk to your social worker or lawyer about starting the special education process or call the Children’s Law Center at 781-543-5298. If your school still cannot meet your needs, you may want to talk to your social worker about changing schools.

Q How can I get my GED (now called "HiSET)"?

If you leave school without graduating and want to earn your GED, now called HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) you need to meet the requirements and then you need to pass the exams. The High School Equivalency Test covers 5 subject areas. If you pass it you are certified as having a high school level of academic skill.

Q Why would I want special education services?

Special education services can give you extra help and support,both inside and/or outside of the regular classroom. These services are based on a determination of what you need to help you succeed in school. Some students do better in school when they have extra time with teachers, one-on-one help, a longer school year, a smaller class, a separate program, counseling, or even just the chance to take breaks. If you and your school decide that special education services are right for you, a “team” of which you may be part of will create an individualized education program (IEP).

Q What is an IEP?

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a document which lists all of the things you are good at, the things that you need help with, and the ways that the school will help you learn so that you can be successful. The Team responsible for determining what goes in the IEP includes:

  • The parent(s) or caregiver of the student
  • The student if he or she is 14 years of age or older
  • At least one regular education teacher
  • At least one special education teacher or provider
  • An individual who can interpret the evaluations
  • A representative from the school district 

Q How do I know if I need or can get special education services?

If you are under age 21 and have difficulty keeping up in your class studies, you may have a disability that may be keeping you from succeeding in school. A “disability” can be any

  • Trouble you have with learning, seeing, hearing, communicating,
  • Trouble with emotions or behavior, or
  • Trouble due to an illness or permanent injury.

To decide whether you have a disability or not, the school will do an evaluation, or a number of tests.

Q Who can contact the school to ask for a special education evaluation for me?

A parent, guardian, or any person who is working with you can request the special education evaluation. This might include your social worker, lawyer, doctor, a teacher, a daycare provider, a coach, etc. Ask an adult that you feel comfortable talking to and get the process started! It could mean the difference between dropping out and graduation! If you are already 18 you can ask for an evaluation yourself.

Q Who makes education decisions for me if I am in foster care?

If you are under 18 and in foster care, you will have a special education surrogate parent, usually your foster parent, who makes education decisions for you. Otherwise, you may have a "special education surrogate." This SESP will made education decisions for you including giving authority to give permission to the school to test you. The SESP will also sign the IEP after the Team meeting to authorize the school to provide the services described in the IEP.  If you are 18 or older, you can make these decisions yourself and you can sign your own IEP.

Q What if I need additional services after high school to help meet my special needs?

Someone will help you. Chapter 688 (sometimes called the turning 22 law) is a planning process which helps you identify services or supports which may be helpful to you as you move into the adult service system once you have either graduated or turned age 22 – whichever happens first.

Q Are you eligible for 688?

You must be currently registered and attending school and receiving special educational services in Massachusetts in order to be eligible for 688 planning services.  In addition, you must be in need of continued assistance because of a severe disability and unable to work 20 or more hours per week. You may not be able to complete tasks such as meal preparation or hygiene steps without verbal cueing or physical assistance.  If you may have been found eligible for services through DDS, DMH or Mass Rehab., or any other State agency, you are eligible for 688 planning services.  If you are receiving SSI and/ or SSDI benefits based on your own eligibility or have been found legally blind, you are eligible for 688 planning services.

Q How does the Chapter 688 process work?

At least two years before you are either going to graduate from high school or turn age 22 (whichever comes first) – you may ask the school district during your yearly IEP meeting to make a referral. The referral is made based on the severity of your needs and the determination that you will need additional services after leaving school. The referral must be signed by a parent, guardian or you once you have reached the age of 18. Ask for a copy of the referral from your guidance counselor. You can actually ask for a 688 referral once you turn age 16.

Q Once the 688 referral has been made, what happens?

The school district sends the referral to the State agency in the best position to meet your planning needs. Some of the local agencies are Department of Children and Families (DCF), Division of Youth Services (DYS), Department of Developmental Services (DDS), or Department of Mental Health (DMH) to name a few.

Once the agency receives the referral they talk with you about whether you meet the criteria for a treatment plan meeting during which an Individual Treatment Plan (referred to as an ITP) will be developed.  The ITP outlines your strengths and interests – it makes suggestions as to what resources and or services may be an option to help support you. The plan does not guarantee or entitle you to services – that will be based on available funding and your eligibility for specific services. You can invite anyone to your ITP meeting – the usual people invited besides yourself and family would be your case manager from DCF if applicable, a person from your school any of the people who have been working directly with you.

If you are found eligible for adult services with DDS or DMH they will send a staff person to attend as well. The ITP meeting is held a few months before you graduate or turn 22. The written plan will be sent to you within a few weeks for you to review and make comments. Once the plan is finalized and any changes made you will be asked to sign it or reject it. If you reject the plan then it is forwarded to the Bureau of Transition for review.

Q Do I have to have a 688 referral in order to apply for adult services?

You do not have to have a 688 referral to apply for adult services. However going through the process makes sure that the agencies have enough time to help set up a good transition plan with you and that you have sufficient time to ensure your input is communicated.

Q What are the benefits of 688?

For youth who are 688 eligible, the 688 process ensures that you are working with the appropriate service agency or agencies before exiting special education. It provides very specific time lines for planning so that you experience a smooth transition for services once eligibility has been confirmed.

Q When do I start planning for college?

You should be thinking about college as early as freshman year in high school. Take every opportunity to attend college fairs, career centers, and talk to your guidance counselor about what types of jobs interest you and what type of education you would need to get those jobs.  Much of the planning for college and the application process happen in the 11th grade. If you’re already in the 12th grade, don’t worry! There is still time to get started on applying to college. Just start as soon as you can. Being in foster care is not a barrier to attending college.

Q How do I apply for college?

The first thing you should do is go to see your school’s guidance counselor. Tell her/him that you want to apply to college and you would like help with the process. She/he will help you look at different schools and pick some that look best for you. You will also need to get ready (study and sign up) for the SAT or ACT. These are tests that you usually have to take when applying to college, but are not required for community college. After you’ve taken the SAT or ACT, you can fill out college applications, with the help of your guidance counselor. Your school counselor can also help you make a step-by-step plan, to keep you organized through the process. Your DCF outreach worker is also available to give you help with college and vocational training questions.

Q How do I get money to go to college?

Be sure to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Assistance), a form that helps you get college funds from the federal government.You may also be eligible for a tuition waiver. That is a program where the cost of tuition and fees for college classes are waived for youth in foster care. This program is only available to U.S. citizens and there are certain rules about where and how you go to school. Look up the Foster Child Tuition Waiver and Fee Assistance Program for more information about free undergraduate tuition and fees at the in-state rate at any one of Massachusetts’ 29 state and community colleges and universities. This program is for current or former foster children placed in DCF custody and remaining in custody through age 18 for at least six months immediately prior to age 18; or youth who had been in DCF custody and whose guardianship was sponsored by DCF. You may use the waiver up to age 25.  Contact Kathy Martin at 617-748-2232 for more information. 

You can also find information about financial aid programs for Massachusetts residents. These are programs that give money for young people to go to college in the state where they live. To learn more about this, check out the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance. Their phone number is 617-391-6070.

DCF has created the College Scholarship Guide, a book listing many of the scholarships (money for college) available to you.  Contact your social worker, Adolescent Outreach Worker, or DCF at (617) 748-2232 and ask them for a copy. They can also help you fill out any forms and figure out if you are eligible for any loans, grants, or other programs. There are other financial support programs specifically for youth in foster care listed at DCF's Tuition Assistance.

The William Warren Scholarship Program provides competitive scholarships for educational and vocational programs to any youth under age 25 who was in the care or custody of DCF for a minimum of one year. You should also contact the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend for more ideas on how to get money for college.

Q Once I get the money, can I just show up to college and start?

No, first you need to apply, get accepted, and register to attend. The application and registration processes require many documents and forms, so be sure to pay attention to their due dates.  Know the names and phone numbers of the people who work at the college. They can help you with your questions about the forms or any other things you may need. If you are unsure about anything, always ask someone, and don’t worry about who it is—if they don’t know the answer, they can point you to someone who does.   The Outreach staff is available to assist you throughout your college education process.

Q What if I don’t want to go to college? Can I do job training or a vocational program?

Yes! You may qualify for financial aid through one or more of the DCF programs and/or the federal government through the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Assistance.) Your job training and /or vocational program can be paid for by DCF - until you turn 22 years old if you sign on with DCF. Talk to your social worker, lawyer, or the Adolescent Outreach Worker at your DCF office for more information about these programs. Learn more about signing in with DCF in Chapter Four Turning 18.

Q When do I start planning for college?

You should be thinking about college as early as freshman year in high school. Take every opportunity to attend college fairs, career centers, and talk to your guidance counselor about what types of jobs interest you and what type of education you would need to get those jobs.  Much of the planning for college and the application process happen in the 11th grade. If you’re already in the 12th grade, don’t worry! There is still time to get started on applying to college. Just start as soon as you can. Being in foster care is not a barrier to attending college.