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Published: Tuesday, 1/22/2013

New law aims to help students in foster care

Act gives case workers access to records, smooths transfers

BY RITA PRICE
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS — A law signed last week by President Obama is expected to help clear some educational roadblocks for foster children, whose school records often remained closed to child-welfare workers.

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act gives the agencies access to the records by making an exception for child-welfare workers in the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, known as FERPA.

That means child-welfare workers won’t necessarily have to obtain parental consent or wait for court orders to act on school matters. Parents don’t automatically lose their educational rights when an agency has temporary custody of their child.

Local advocates say the change in FERPA should reduce or eliminate some of the snags, delays, and missed days that occur when children come into custody or change schools.

“It was a well-intentioned law, but it had some unintended consequences for foster children who are moving around from school district to school district and often fall behind,” said Scott Britton, assistant director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

Missed school days are a problem for foster parents too, he said, because many can’t miss work while transfers are pending.

“It’s become a real deterrent for foster families in some cases,” he said. “Days would turn into weeks.”

In some cases, Mr. Britton said, Ohio foster children’s school records and report cards were “held hostage” by the former school district if certain fees had not been paid. Waiting for court action and county-issued checks took more time.

Many child-welfare agencies have developed educational-stability programs for foster children.

According to studies of adults in the Midwest who had been in foster care, more than one-third changed schools at least five times as children, and most read at a seventh-grade level after completing 10th or 11th grade.

Among Ohio foster children in the ninth grade, one-fourth passed the math and science proficiency tests and half passed the reading test. Foster children drop out of school at higher rates and are about half as likely to graduate from high school, advocates said.



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