Children in foster care need to graduate high school, judge says

A Kansas judge who presides over hundreds of child in need cases says the system faces daunting challenges on many levels, including the low graduation rate of students in foster care.

About 39 percent of foster care students graduate high school in Kansas as compared with 50 percent nationally, Sedgwick County 18th District Judge Kevin Smith told the Special Committee on Foster Care Oversight.

When most foster children don’t attain a high school diploma, they have difficulties throughout life and many times end up in the criminal justice system, Smith said. “We need to graduate them,” he said.

Another problem, Smith said, is that when foster children are placed in different areas and must transfer to other schools, it often takes weeks for their school records to follow them and there is nothing required for the new school to follow any special instruction that the student received at his or her former school.

The foster care committee is expected to provide recommendations to the Legislature, which will convene the 2021 session in January. Foster care in Kansas has been under scrutiny for several years. Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order requiring a state report card on education outcomes for students in foster care beginning this year. Most data show these students lagging far behind in educational progress, which results in lower economic, social and health outcomes as adults.

In addition to education, Smith cited numerous problems with Kansas’ foster care system.

There are approximately 7,600 children in out of home placements, yet there are only 2,700 foster homes. Foster care caseworkers handle an average of 40-78 cases at one time, when the recommended average is below 20 cases. “We are burning out these caseworkers. They are leaving the system; no human being can take this kind of stress,” he said.

Children are often moved from one home to the next, which makes it more difficult to coordinate visits and efforts to rejoin their biological families.

Smith said the best way to help children in the foster care system is to get the local community engaged and encourage interaction with biological families.

 

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