School District Officials Devote Considerable Time and Effort to Ensuring that Children in Foster Care are Receiving the Right Educational Services.

School districts expend considerable time getting access to student information when foster students are placed.

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School districts must devote a significant amount of staff time to organizing appropriate services for students in foster care and state care. Whenever school district officials learn that a student in foster care or state custody has entered their jurisdiction, they must obtain pertinent student records from prior school placements. They must then determine the student’s district of origin before entering into discussions with DCF and other stakeholders about what educational setting, and which services, are in the student’s best interest. If the outcome of these discussions is a decision to keep the child in their school of origin, or that the student’s IEP requires other out-of-district services or placements, the district must next arrange special transportation services. In making these arrangements, school districts sometimes receive inconsistent information that can require additional time and effort to address. Some districts report that they receive no notification from DCF when a student in foster care arrives in or leaves the district. Other districts report that they bear the burden of establishing and maintaining communications with DCF through interactions that are based mostly on interpersonal relationships, rather than formal, established procedures. Moreover, several districts reported that they have informed DCF that a foster student has been absent from school (sometimes for periods in excess of 40 days), only to find that DCF has not acted on that report, or has not acted promptly to work with the district on the absenteeism issue. Finally, the slow transmission of student records can result in duplicative testing and assessments that delay the placement of a student in an appropriate educational setting while increasing the cost of providing services.


1. DCF and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) should collaborate on maintaining a dynamic list of students in foster care and their current placements, as well as their schools of origin and other data. The maintenance of a master list of students in foster care would save staff time tracking attendance and missing students. We recommend a report format that can be used as a fallback by districts if the proper paperwork does not appear to notify the school of changes. Such a list would serve as an important building block for ongoing analysis that would reveal factors such as geographic concentration of students, rates of transition, percentages of students with IEPs, percentages with out-of-district placement, transportation expenses, and other information that would be helpful to statewide decision-makers in planning for funding and implementation of these critical services. Maintaining such a list would also alleviate concerns by the school districts over the current accounting for students in the economically disadvantaged category. The state has made progress to identify more students in the category but stakeholders are still concerned that this has not been fully fixed. This data will account for students in foster care while additional progress is made for all students in the economically disadvantaged category. The Commonwealth is responsible for reporting to the federal government on the educational outcomes for students in foster care. These statistics would be valuable to policymakers as discussions progress on how local schools can best meet requirements for federal and state compliance. All due care should be taken to protect the privacy of students and families in this data compilation.

2. The Commonwealth should implement an electronic backpack for foster care students. This system allows school districts to access information quickly as students come into their domain. This system has been implemented in various counties in California, and there are active proposals in front of the Massachusetts legislature to implement such a system. Federal law requires that a school district that receives a child in foster care request the educational records of the student from the prior district. The absence of records must not prevent the student from immediate enrollment in the new district but can slow the placement process, as well as the implementation of the student’s IEP, if applicable. If the records were online, properly secured, and consistently updated, districts would save time currently spent on record requests and retrieval. Such a database would also be a significant time-saver for the social workers who are charged with helping to facilitate this process.

3. There is a need for resources to support proper education credentialing. Students whose educational outcomes are challenged by frequent changes in school settings need assistance in making sure that what they have achieved is properly reflected in their record. With the enactment of Chapter 108 of the Acts of 2012, Massachusetts joined an interstate effort to support this goal for children in military families. The effort helps students and families garner credit and meet graduation requirements, even offsetting MCAS testing, based on assessments completed elsewhere. A similar program exists for children of families that work in agricultural industries and are subject to seasonal movement. This type of effort would be useful for students in foster care and homeless students.

Date published: April 23, 2019

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