Approximately 6000 Massachusetts children between the ages of 6-17 are in the foster care system. All of these children- plus children under the age of 5 and over 18 have the right to a public education. But a recent report form State Auditor Suzanne Bump concludes that local school districts are struggling to keep up with providing services to children in foster care due to a lack of funding from the state.
The Educational Services for Students in Foster Care and State Care report released on April 23, 2019 concludes that the state needs to increase funding to local districts who have students who are in the foster care system as well as improve procedures for stage agencies to ensure proper training and policies are consistently implemented. In fact, the auditor’s report uses the term funding 43 times, resources 19 times and cost 73 times.
Most concerning to us at The Policy Minute is the finding that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Department of Elementary and
Secondary Education (DESE) still do not have any sort of training on a policy document published in January 2018 on procedures including transfer educational records, school notification and student assignment to a new district.
The report identified four specific finding and proposed key recommendations to improve the outcomes for children while supporting the communities who care for children in foster and state care.
Finding 1: Local school districts expend significant resources to fund educational services for students in foster care.
1. The state should assume the full expense of providing educational services to students in foster care and state care.
Finding 2: School district officials devote considerable time and effort to ensuring that children in foster care are receiving the right educational services.
1. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) and 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.
2. The Commonwealth should implement an electronic backpack for foster care students.
3. There is a need for resources to support proper education credentialing.
Finding 3: DCF should ensure that its staff is trained and follows the procedures in the DCF/DESE joint guidance from January 2018.
1. DCF and DESE should jointly provide training to DCF and school district staff on how to
collaborate on placement decisions (best-interest determinations) and how student
information should flow.
2. DESE and DCF should encourage the use of Special Education Surrogate or Guardian Ad Litem arrangements for students in foster care.
3. DCF should encourage proper team “meetings” to make decisions on the special
education Individualized Education Plans for students in foster care per guidance.
4. DCF should provide proper written documentation to districts alerting them to the gain or loss of students.
Finding 4: Proper transportation arrangements are a challenge for districts that must return students to their schools of origin.
1. The Commonwealth should provide transportation funding for children in foster care.
2. DCF and DESE should complete the process to provide proper documentation for the
Commonwealth to receive reimbursement for transportation expenses under Title IV-E
of the Social Security Act.
3. The legislature and stakeholders should continue the work of the commission
examining school transportation operations and funding.
4. In addition to fully funding required transportation reimbursements, the legislature
should consider funding an appropriate number of subject matter experts for DESE to
provide substantial technical assistance to districts as they seek to control costs while
enhancing service delivery.