Latest Research on Academic Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care

Screen Shot 2021 09 28 at 8.45.49 PMCheck out these short research summaries on students in foster care from other experts in the field + learn their implications for practice!

Students connected to foster care: An overview of high school experiences (2020)
Sandh, S., Donaldson, V., & Katz, C.

For youth in foster care, frequent placement changes and school transfers can jeopardize high school graduation and college enrollment rates. This study analyzed the residential and academic stability and academic outcomes of 500 youth in care enrolled at a large, public university system in a Northeastern city. All of the students in the sample size had previously attended a public high school in the same city, and the majority had moved ZIP codes at least once (76.6%) and transferred high schools at least once (60.6%). 

Researchers found that although students met high school graduation requirements, many struggled with college readiness and had poor academic outcomes. The students in this sample had low SAT scores, low participation rates in college preparatory courses, and low four-year graduation rates on average. Although this study was limited by its focus on students who ultimately enrolled in college, the findings show that instability experienced by youth in care may negatively affect their high school outcomes and college readiness.

Academic functioning of youth in foster care: The influence of unique sources of social support (2021)
Mcguire, A., Gabrielli, J., Hambrick, E., Abel, M. R., Guler, J., & Jackson, Y.

Youth in foster care face many academic and behavioral challenges in school, ranging from low test scores and graduation rates to high rates of aggressive and noncompliant behaviors in the classroom. This study sought to explore whether youth’s perceptions of social support from friends, teachers, classmates, and parents/caregivers had an effect on their academic and behavioral functioning in school. Researchers drew from a sample size of 257 youth, as well as their primary caregivers and teachers, participating in a larger, longitudinal study of youth in foster care. Most youth resided in congregate care (62%), with the remaining 38% in traditional foster home settings. 

In alignment with previous research, this study found that high rates of placement changes were associated with more negative behavioral health in school among youth in care. Across all sources of support examined in the study, teacher social support was the only source of support associated with academic performance and behavioral health. These findings emphasize the need to provide youth in care with stable living situations and strong, supportive relationships with teachers.

Academic resilience and caring adults: The experiences of former foster youth (2020)
Neal, D.

Frequent home placements and school changes can compound high levels of stress, trauma, and instability experienced by youth in foster care, ultimately taking a toll on their academic progress. In this study, researchers interviewed 57 youth who transitioned out of foster care and enrolled in a top-ranking research university. Interviews were also conducted with adults identified by the youth as having supported their academic success. 

Adults attributed the youth’s academic success to intrinsic traits such as intelligence, resilience, and tenacity. Interviews with students revealed that many were motivated to succeed academically by a need to subvert expectations, exert control over their future, and avoid ending up like their biological parents. Most youth noted that extracurricular activities (e.g., church-based programs, sports, theater, internships, community service, etc.) supported their growth and academic success. Finally, both students and adults noted that relationships with caring and supportive adults helped youth build academic and emotional resilience and overcome their negative past experiences.