• Ann Wrixon

Negative Experiences in School May Explain Foster Youth Educational Outcomes

It has been well established that foster youth have dismal educational outcomes. Less than half graduate from high school. Only 11.8% of former foster youth have a college degree by the time they are 25-years-old compared to 28% of their non-foster peers. Although these outcomes are well known, there has not been research on the experiences of foster youth in school until a recently published study examined this issue.

A large-scale study published in 2018 comparing foster youth and non-foster youth experiences in school in California found “that after controlling for age, gender and race, adolescents in foster care reported more discrimination-based harassment, weapons-use, gang involvement and victimization in school. These findings are significant, as experiences with discrimination, gangs, weapons, and victimization have all been found to have [negative] repercussions into other areas of adolescents’ lives. (p.265) However, “after controlling for background and school experiences, there were no significant differences in academic achievements between foster care youth and their high school peers. After considering the student’s background, involvement with victimization, climate perceptions and skipping class, there were no differences in self-reported grades between students in foster care and their peers. This finding may reflect that in-school experiences are responsible for many of the negative academic outcomes experienced by foster youth. This is significant as positive school experiences could arguably serve as an important protective role for students facing a host of risk factors.” (p. 265)

An important limitation of this study is that the researchers used self-reports for their outcomes, which are often not accurate. The research does indicate that school interventions that provide foster youth with positive experiences would go a long way to improving their educational outcomes. Particularly, schools should intervene to prevent discrimination-based harassment and victimization in school.

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