Legislation passed unanimously by city leaders last week would require New York City officials to begin releasing more extensive data on the educational outcomes of thousands of students in foster care. Advocates have long argued such accountability is needed for kids raised in government custody, who face daunting challenges in school.
If signed into law by Mayor Eric Adams in the coming weeks, the Department of Education will begin releasing statistics on students who are in temporary housing and foster care and who have received disability evaluations, special education, therapy and transportation help. The data will also include any suspensions or calls to emergency services, and will be broken down by school district, school and grade level, among other factors.
There are roughly 7,000 students in city schools who live in foster care. Child advocate lawyers and educational rights activists say more specific tallies of these students’ progress will allow them to better tailor their support efforts, and ensure that policymakers are aware of the urgency of their needs.
The legislation that calls for the new monitoring was introduced in December by Brooklyn City Council Member Rita Joseph, and passed Friday by the City Council.
“More data will allow for far greater oversight and analysis on serving the city’s most vulnerable students,” Joseph said in a Friday public meeting about foster youth.
The new legislation will take effect immediately upon Mayor Adams’ signature.
The need for data
The difficulties foster youth face in school are widely acknowledged, although there is little reliable data to consistently monitor progress. A 2022 study by the city’s Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence found that only one in four New York City foster youth graduates from high school on time.
Their education can be challenged by numerous factors, including difficulty traveling to schools of origin, multiple transfers, poor transmission of transcripts and records, and disproportionately high rates of suspensions.
“For far too long, data showing these disparities have been hidden from public view — and the unique needs of students in foster care have been overlooked,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of the nonprofit Advocates For Children.
More than 40% of the city’s students who have spent time in the child welfare system are categorized as students with disabilities, which is twice the citywide rate, according to the advocacy group’s data analysis of public records. Foster youth are also overrepresented in “District 75” schools, which analysts say segregate students with significant disabilities from the rest of the system, while lacking resources and showing far lower graduation rates than other city schools.
The bill passed by the City Council would require the Department of Education to track students’ individualized education programs –– documents required for students enrolled in special education programs.
Erika Palmer, supervising attorney at Advocates for Children, said foster youth are also more likely to be placed in “very restrictive special education settings,” signaling the need for more careful monitoring of how students are being classified.
Long-sought support now in the works
This academic year represents another first for New York City foster youth. The education department now has a staff of nine people dedicated to serving the needs of the city’s public school students growing up in the child welfare system. Its top priorities include assisting with transportation needs, attendance issues, and providing counseling and mentoring services.
Advocates plan to continue the push for transparency in data collection and sharing.
In an interview last month, former New York City foster youth Dareth Ogle described her childhood: she entered the child welfare system in 1998 and had attended five schools by the sixth grade. She said she grew up with no adult in her life who seemed interested in her education, beyond making sure she got to class.
She praised the role of the city’s mentors and coaches for students in foster care, as well as the new support provided by the Office of Education.
“Social workers cannot do it all, and you cannot always rely on foster parents to be invested in the child’s education,” Ogle said. “Now, they have somebody to advocate for that young person and make sure that person is performing at the peak of their academic potential.”