The Challenge

Foster and probation youth lag far behind other youth in educational achievement, a fact that greatly diminishes their chances of becoming successful adults. Education is high on the list of goals for these youth, second only to relationships with people who care about them. They see education as their ticket to success, yet the statistics about how far their achievement lags behind that of other students are truly devastating.

• Nationally, about one-third to one-half of foster and probation youth perform below grade level.

• Nationally, nearly half of foster youth fail to complete high school, and fewer than 5 percent ever earn a bachelor's degree. (This is parti­cularly grave because 75 to 80 percent of entry-level jobs now require at least two years of college.)

• Almost a third of foster and probation youth in Los Angeles County receive special education services.

• The average reading level of Los Angeles County probation youth in grades nine through twelve is below grade five.

What Youth
Have Said

"No one has a dream
for us and our future."

   "Educational success
is not an expectation
for those of us
in the system."

   "Education is the one
thing that would have
made a dif­fer­ence
in my life."

   To learn more about
what system youth
have said, click here to download a copy of
"Through Their Eyes:
Results of Youth and
Adult Caregiver
Focus Groups on the
Education of Youth
in the Foster Care and Probation Systems

Part of this achievement gap is a result of the abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, poverty, inadequate early care, and poor preparation for school that many of these youth experience before entering the dependency or delinquency systems. Another part results from isolation, the trauma of being separated from their families, frequent placement changes and, often, stigma and lowered expectations.

The rest can largely be explained by administrative problems these youth encounter once in the system—disruptive delays in transfers between schools, lost or misplaced records, absences for service-related needs, a lack of standard procedures across school districts for awarding credits, and difficulties enrolling in the classes required for graduation in overburdened school systems.

Once they leave the dependency or delinquency systems at about age 18, studies have shown that half of these youth are unemployed, one-third are dependent on public assistance, a quarter are incarcerated, and over a fifth are homeless.