New York City child welfare advocates are again urging Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks to make good on the promise to fully staff the first-ever Department of Education (DOE) division dedicated to students in foster care, and to ensure they are transported to schools near their homes.
Education officials maintain the new staff will greet students in the fall, but skepticism remains.
“Students in foster care deserve a K-12 education that prepares them for the future,” reads a letter signed by more than 30 nonprofit groups and sent to Adams and Banks on Friday. “We write to urge the City to honor its commitment to fully staff a DOE team dedicated to meeting the unique educational needs of students in foster care and to meet its obligation under law to provide busing for this population.”
The New York City Department of Education has for years been pressured to provide greater assistance to the city’s 7,500 students in foster care. In December, the New York Daily News reported the school system’s plans to launch the new division, with the goal of hiring half of the staff by January. But six months later — amid difficulty hiring for all city positions — the education department has yet to hire a single staffer for what will now be a nine-person unit.
“That was surprising to me,” City Councilmember Gale Brewer said in an interview. Both Brewer and Councilmember Rita Joseph attended a recent public rally urging the city to speed up their hiring process. “How could you leave all those positions vacant for such a long time?”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education told The Imprint Tuesday that it is making progress on the hiring process for four of the team’s staff positions, and has extended three offers to job candidates.
“We look forward to filling all 9 positions this coming school year,” spokesperson Suzan Sumer wrote in an email.
But critics say that progress isn’t enough, and every day the city takes to fill its department is another day students in foster care continue to go without critical support.
“It’s really important to get these folks in place in time for the beginning of the new school year so that they can begin to support students,” said Erika Palmer, supervising attorney at Advocates for Children. “We don’t want another school year to go forward when this is still a big struggle. Students are being impacted.”
Students in foster care, who are disproportionately Black and low-income, face numerous educational hurdles and attendance challenges, and they have a higher chance of needing to repeat a grade than their peers.
In 2019, only one in four New York City public school students who spent at least a week in foster care during high school graduated on time, according to a disturbing new study released by Mayor Adams’ office. The foster youth graduation rates are significantly lower than what city and state officials had previously reported. They are also far lower than graduation rates for foster youth nationwide, which typically range between 40% and 70%.
New York City students who had been moved repeatedly during their time in foster care had an 11% chance of graduating within four years. Children placed in group facilities, the report found, graduated only 5% of the time.
In its letter to the mayor and schools chancellor last week, nonprofits call on the city to meet “the city’s obligation to students in foster care.”
They also want improved “door-to-door transportation” for students separated from their families — in large part because school “has the potential to be an important stabilizing factor in their lives.” Without reliable transportation, advocates say, “this potential often goes unrealized, causing many students to transfer schools and experience further instability.”
Although federal and state laws require the city to provide transportation to students in foster care so they can stay in the school they were attending before being removed from home, unless an individualized education program plan is in place, those rides are not being made available, the letter to city officials states.
And waiting for the bus only causes more disruption.
“Transportation to school is the first and most basic step to school stability and educational success,” advocates stated. “Without it, research — and this City’s history — makes plain the consequences: students forced to change schools frequently have lower test scores, earn fewer credits, and are more likely to be retained and drop out of school.”