Foster Care and Education Research

How foster care involvement affects educational outcomes

There is great interest in how school transitions affect educational outcomes for children. When you compare children who experience school changes and children who experience changes in foster placement, what other conclusions can we draw? And which change has the greatest impact on a child – school or foster home changes? The Annie E. Casey Foundation contracted with Partners for Our Children to further examine this issue by reviewing existing literature and analyzing data from Washington State.

POC set out to address the following questions:

  • Predicting Non-Normative Transitions*: Does foster care increase the likelihood of a child experiencing non-normative school transitions?
  • Predicting Educational Outcomes: Do foster care or non-normative school transitions affect the child’s likelihood of completing high school?
  • Predicting Permanency Outcomes: Do foster care placement changes or non-normative school transitions affect the time it takes to achieve permanency (i.e., placing a child in a permanent home)?


Predicting Non-Normative Transitions.

The data shows that the majority of children (54%) experience non-normative school transitions – a rather high number, but consistent across America. However, foster youth experience these school changes 28 percent more than children with no history in the foster care system. Another factor that increases the likelihood for school changes is poverty, which is not surprisingly associated with children in foster care. While the best interests of some foster youth may be served by having them change schools (e.g. due to relative/kin placements, unique placement needs of the child, etc.), research suggests that allowing children to remain in their school may have a positive impact on their education and length of time for finding a permanent home (i.e. permanency).


Predicting Educational Outcomes

Overall – and not surprisingly – both foster care placement changes and non-normative school transitions decrease the likelihood of completing high school. However, the key variable is when the child experienced a change in foster home or non-normative school transition. If they experience either prior to 8th grade, there is no significant impact on high school completion, but if they experience either during or after 8th grade, there is a negative impact. Interestingly, the effects of foster care changes are “less negative” (i.e. less significant) than non-normative school transitions. Therefore, in general, non-normative schools transitions should be avoided for all children – in foster care or not – but it is even more critical for older children to stay at their current school to improve the likelihood of completing high school.


Predicting Permanency Outcomes

When looking exclusively at foster youth, both placement changes and non-normative school transitions negatively impact the length of time to permanency. In general, there is little difference between the two types of changes, but you can see differences when broken down by 1) age and 2) number of changes. For younger children, moving foster homes is worse and for older children, changing schools is worse. In terms of number of changes, the initial change has the greatest impact; subsequent changes are still not good, but not to the same extent as the initial change in foster home or school.

*Non-Normative School Transitions: Changing schools for reasons other than grade promotions, e.g., not just a change from elementary to middle school.