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Home Environments and the Impact it has on Education: The Effects of Foster Care on

Children’s Education

By: Julianne Lyons


In this paper, I have researched how the education of children in foster care is affected.

My research has concluded that a child is very vulnerable to the changes he or she endures

during time spent in foster care. Included in this paper I have researched about the founder of

Foster Care, Charles Loring Brace, and how his Orphan Train Movement inspired what is known

as the foster care system today. I have researched how children’s academic language, social,

behavioral, and cognitive skills are affected by being placed into the foster care system. The

paper includes studies conducted by researchers who explain how the foster care system

affects children and how the system can be improved to help children struggling to succeed in

school. The negatives that are associated with the foster care system has led my research to

uncover how drastic a child suffers when he or she is not in a stable, loving, and nurturing

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The definition of foster care is the raising or supervision of foster children, as orphans or

delinquents, in an institution, group home, or private home, usually arranged through a

government or social-service agency that provides compensation for expenses

(Dictionary.com). In 1853, Charles Loring Brace, a minister, founded the Children’s Aid Society

in New York City. He started the Orphan Train Movement where over 150,000 orphaned

children in New York were sent by train to farms across the country. Brace’s system became the

foundation for what is known as today’s foster care system. The foster care system estimated

427,910 children were in foster care during 2015 and on average children remain there for two

years (Children’s Rights). Foster care was created as a temporary place for children whose legal

guardians are not able to properly care for them. During the temporary stay the

court/government and foster care agencies decides on the specifications of what is in the best

interest of the child. Unfortunately, the foster care system is so badly broken that many

children suffer from being in the system to long, bouncing around from one foster home to the

next, birth parents constantly loosing custody of their children, or children aging out of the

system. During this unstable period of a child’s life many factors are affected causing difficulties

in many areas. One area that is greatly affected is a child’s education, the constant uprooting,

creates challenges that a child may never overcome. When a child is placed into foster care

their dynamic gets altered, no longer being with their family, siblings, or friends, their normal

everyday lives are disrupted. When a child is unable to return to their parents they are

transitioned to foster homes, group homes, foster to adoption programs, or even assisted care

for older children in the system who become emancipated. These transitions are not always

permanent which result in a child moving to numerous amounts of foster homes every year,
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changing schools and districts, or becoming homeless due to aging out of the foster care

system. Children are falling through the cracks of the foster care system and their education is

one of the main factors affected. Children whose education is affected by being in the foster

care tend to have behavioral problems, lack of social, psychological, self-regulatory and

academic skills, higher chance of dropping out of school, and ultimately ending up homeless,

pregnant, or in jail. Children who are in the foster care system display high rates and risks

compared to children who come from stable, loving, and involved families.

There were an estimated 427,910 children in the foster care system in 2015; of these

children six percent are younger than one years old, thirty-two percent are ages one to five,

twenty-one percent are age six to ten, twenty-three percent are age eleven to fifteen, eighteen

percent are age sixteen to eighteen (Studios, C). The highest percentage of children in the

foster care is ages one to five; during this time in a child’s life their brain grows and develops

the most within the first five years of birth than any other time in their life. Children’s brains are

affected by their environments, the connections they make are based on experiences, and

those experiences lead to skills that are developed and used throughout the rest of their lives.

Children acquire many skills which will help develop other skills needed as they grow. During

the ages one to five, children physically develop at a rapid pace and this includes the

development of language, social, emotional, and cognitive skills (Morin, A). The experiences

associated with this age range are critical for the short-term and long-term development of a

child’s brain. Children that are experiencing being in the foster care system at this age who are

neglected have not experienced nurturing or stable home environments have higher rates of

physical, developmental, and health problems. The younger a child is when put into foster care
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and the longer that child stays in the system has a higher risk of not developing learning

processes (Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption and Dependent Care). The brain has nerve

connections and neurotransmitters that form during the first five years of a child’s life and the

lack of stimulus and interaction a child has the brain begins to deteriorate those neurons due to

not being stimulate. Children in foster care experience this type neglect which results in loss of

either language, behavioral, and cognitive skills.

Children who experience this type of treatment in the foster care system have already

surpassed the point of brain development. In a study conducted by Katherine Pears, she

analyzed the effects of maltreatment and lack of caregiver involvement on children in

kindergarten and first grade. The study conducted evaluations on children in foster care and

children from the community living with their caregivers. The study proved that children in

foster care who had no caregiver involvement and had experienced a form of maltreatment

(abuse, neglect) exhibited poor skills in academic and social-emotional competence. The results

of the study proved that caregiver involvement in a child’s life greatly impacted their education.

In another study conducted by Katherine Pears, she analyzed the effects of

maltreatment and placement into the foster care elevated the risks of poor psychological

outcomes which included school failure. Her study analyzed children (93) in foster care and (54)

low socioeconomic children in the neighboring community, the study involved results from

three dimensions of school engagement; (behavioral, affective, and cognitive). Children in the

foster care system displayed lower affective and cognitive school engagement then the

neighboring children. The study also addressed how to change the foster care system so the
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children are not academically and behaviorally challenged when they reach education. Pears

addressed the foster care system and how they are responsible for the lives of these children,

the statistics prove that there is a huger problem with the way it is currently ran and to change

the trajectory the system must change and focus on the children’s point of view and how the

system can better their future not berate and beat them down so they end up in jail or dead.

In another study conducted by Katherine Pears, she analyzes the effects of the home

environment on children in foster care and how they lack in areas of school because of their

home situation. Pears addressed how the caregivers that take in these children lack

involvement which leads to not developing self-regulatory skills and school readiness. Her study

involved 192 children in foster care and her findings concluded that children whose caregivers

showed involvement in their foster kid’s lives had greater successes in academic skills such as

reading and math scores. Children whose caregivers never helped with homework, attended

back to school night, or parent teacher conferences, increased the foster child’s risk for failing

and falling behind.

Children who are affected by the foster care system are at greater risk of failing and not

completing their education. What a future teacher can do to help make sure their student is not

a statistic is to become involved as much as possible. Try getting in touch with previous

teachers or schools to find out the student’s academic status, update their background

information to include all history, understand that foster children have a harder time adjusting

to new learning environments and may be delayed months for every move they make while in

foster care. Teachers can come into contact with the child’s education decision-maker is and
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reach out to ensure that all parties are involved in the student’s educational plan. Teachers see

the student and have more contact with them during Monday through Friday, teachers can

have a great impact on getting a student acclimated to their new school and get the student all

the resources they need to catch up on what they have missed out on.

Children in the foster care system come across many struggles in their life, these

struggles affect them physically and mentally. Children depend on adults to make decisions for

them to better their lives, but those who don’t speak up for the uneducated child affected by

the foster care system are just as in the wrong as the caregivers and judicial system who put

them in the system and didn’t aide them in being successful. Children are vulnerable at all ages

of the adolescent years and adults are put into their lives to make sure that they are well taken

care of physically and mentally. Children whose education is affected by the system have higher

risks of developing behavioral and cognitive problems, dropout of high school, and end up in

jail. These situations are all due to the adults who did not make sure the child’s best interest

were being addressed. The uneducated voices of the children neglected in the foster care

system needs to be heard, the system needs to be changed so that caregivers are held

responsible for these children. The caregivers who collect checks from the government but do

not care about what happens to that child while under their supervision. Every child’s life

matters no matter what their story is they should be treated equally. The foster care system

needs to be changed and all the studies and experiments prove the system to be broken, as a

country we need to find a way to help every child in need so that they don’t get lost in the

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