The start of a new school year always seems to bring with it a sense of opportunity and excitement.
You probably remember being a kid and getting your class list, buying new school supplies, looking forward to time with friends from last year, wondering what your new teachers would be like, what you would learn, and how you would grow over the course of the year to come.
From studying educational outcomes for Nebraska’s children, we know that not all of our kids have an equal chance at success. Disparities exist for children living in poverty and children of color.
Some new data released by the Nebraska Department of Education and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reveal significant educational disparities also exist for state wards.
More likely to change schools, miss days of school, and be placed in special education, Nebraska’s state wards have poorer academic performance and are much less likely to graduate than their peers.
Over the past few years the dismal educational outcomes for children and youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems has attracted increasing attention. In 2008, the federal government passed the Fostering Connections Act which required that states work more diligently to keep children who come into out-of-home care at their own schools. This provision is usually referred to as “school stability.”
Why is school stability so important? Switching new schools for children is hard no matter what the circumstances. It’s even harder for youth in out-of-home care. Children are in the midst of so much change and turmoil when they come into the state’s care – separation from family, a new living environment, and the list goes on.
If a student already has a relationship with peers and teachers, these supports can help children not only emotionally, but also academically. Schools who already know a child and have a previous relationship with them can more easily meet their needs, keep them involved with activities and extracurriculars, and help them stay on course in academic subjects.
The data we have show Nebraska has a long way to go to make school stability and educational achievement more accessible for children and youth who are state wards. Hopefully this will encourage stakeholders to continue conversations and work hard to keep youth in the schools that know them best and are most prepared to help them succeed.
The time has come for the child welfare and education communities to work together to help close the educational gap for our state wards.
For more information on school stability and national trends check out the Fostering Connections website. For more Nebraska specific information on ongoing efforts, look into the Partnership 4 Students.