The past month has been momentous for students who, like me, come from a background in foster care. After a National Town Hall on the intersection of foster care and education, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee passed an amendment to ensure the educational stability of students in foster care. And just the week before last the Department of Education and the Administration for Children, Youth and Families organized a national convening of professionals from education, child welfare, and the judicial system to formulate plans on how to ensure the educational success of children in foster care.
As our federal lawmakers debate sweeping education reform, I would like to take a moment to highlight the importance of educational continuity for students in foster care. I would especially drive home the point that this continuity is a direct function of the level of coordination between public school officials and child protective services. It can be difficult to imagine a real face behind the sobering statistics of the foster care system, but I would still like to offer my story as a youth who made it out in one piece. I was one of the 50 percent of foster youth to graduate from high school and am now part of the 3 percent on track to get a bachelors degree. I graduated from Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills, Mich. in May 2009. I currently attend Harvard University, where I study economics.
During my time in foster care I switched school systems only once. Via Facebook, I am still in touch with friends I had when I first entered foster care in the fifth grade. From that day until I graduated, I had the same teachers. I was in the same afterschool clubs and programs. I studied at the same library, played in the same parks, and hung out at the same shopping malls with the same friends. I grew up in the same community -- even while living in eight different foster family homes, youth group homes, and emergency shelters.
I was the beneficiary of an amazing level of coordination between the institutions of child protective services and public education. My teachers worked in tandem with my social workers to support me. Indeed, school officials served as fierce advocates for me when protective services failed to do so. When push came to shove, even my middle school principal took me in until a foster family could be located in the school district.
As far as foster care goes, I was very fortunate. But succeeding in foster care shouldn't be about luck. The abuse, neglect, and uncertainty; the new places and the strange faces that muddled my home experience; all of this was bad enough without the compounding factors of a social and academic life in tatters. I do not know if I could have persevered without my friends, school, and community.
I hope to see many of the opportunities afforded to me in foster care institutionalized into practice. The traumatic experience of foster care should be alleviated, not aggravated. Maintaining continuity in a positive education environment is a simple method of improving youth outcomes.
An earlier version of this opinion editorial ran in the Boston Herald.