Foster youth face a special set of challenges outside the classroom that have a serious impact on their academic performance.

Foster care is designed to be a temporary service for children with parents who cannot care for them. All too often, however, these children end up spending years of their lives in the foster care system. Without stable homes and loving families to support them, many foster youth struggle to keep up with their peers in academic settings. Across the U.S., youth raised in foster care typically achieve at lower levels academically and are at a higher risk of dropping out of school than their general population peers.

educationDid you know…

Nationwide, only about half of youth raised in foster care end up finishing high school? And less than 3% graduate from a 4-year college1?

Foster youth and education: Facts and Figures

  • Children in foster care are far more likely to change schools during the school year, to be in special education classes, and to fail to receive passing grades than their general population counterparts.
  • High school dropout rates are 3 times higher for foster youth than other low-income children
  • Only about 50% graduate from high school
  • Over 40% of school-aged children in foster care have educational difficulties

According to the findings of a 2011 study conducted of foster youth in California2:

  • About 25% of foster students had a disability, compared to 10% of the general population
  • High school students in foster care had the highest dropout rates and the lowest graduation rates of all comparison student groups.
    • The single year dropout rate for high-school students between 2009-2010 was 8% compared to the statewide average of 3%
    • The graduation rate for foster youth in California during this period was 58% compared to a statewide average of 84%
  • Students in foster care are more likely to attend the lowest-performing schools.

The findings in California are reflected nationwide where youth in foster care consistently underperform in school compared to their general population peers and are far less likely to complete high school or college. The challenges foster youth and former foster youth face academically are very likely to translate into increased difficulty in finding and holding gainful employment when they enter the workforce.


1Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth Outcomes at Age 26 (2011)

2The Invisible Achievement Gap (2011)

3Health Care Issues for Children and Adolescents in Foster Care and Kinship Care (2015)

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