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Advocates want more focus on educational needs of foster children in Massachusetts

The Tarjick family of Cheshire, Massachusetts, has taken in many foster children.
Karen Brown
The Tarjick family of Cheshire, Massachusetts, has taken in many foster children.

A Massachusetts advocacy group is calling on school districts to put more effort into foster children, who tend to do worse academically than those not in state care.

Citizens for Juvenile Justice has compiled data showing foster children in Massachusetts repeat the same grade six times more often than the general population, are chronically absent more than twice the average, and drop out of high school more than twice as often.

Leon Smith is executive director of the advocacy group.

"If any school district saw outcomes this poor for their students, people would be up in arms, the state would be up in arms, and we would demand better," Smith said.

Smith said the reasons for poor academics among foster children are complex; they move around from school to school and are often coping with early trauma.

"So you may have a young person who certainly comes into the foster care system with challenges, but once they're in that system and they experience this even greater level of instability, it leads to even worse outcomes," Smith said.

He urges school districts to hire coordinators to focus exclusively on foster children, as other states have done.

Citizens for Juvenile Justice also says, since the state department of education does not make public much of the information on educational outcomes among foster children, it's harder to address the disparities.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.