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CASA Deep Dive: Legislative Priority – Addressing Educational Challenges for Students in Foster Care

To keep you informed and inspired during the 86th Legislative Session, Texas CASA is taking the next few months to dive in to some of our key legislative priorities. Read more about our legislative priorities and our work leading up to, and during, the session.


TEXAS CASA LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY

Support policies that improve educational outcomes for children and youth in state care.

Overview

The challenges children and youth face in the child welfare system result in barriers to attaining educational success and disruptions in academic progress, as well as other issues that threaten their educational achievement. Texas CASA continues to work with the Texas Legislature and other advocates to address these challenges and ensure these children and youth receive the best possible education.

During the 86th Legislative Session, Texas CASA is focusing on three different policy areas related to education for children and youth in foster care:

  • Policy #1: Ensure school disciplinary practices account for a student’s foster care status.
  • Policy #2: Clean up statutory provisions related to surrogate parents in educational settings.
  • Policy #3: Improve the ability of higher education liaisons to effectively provide outreach and services to students currently or formerly in foster care.

Policy #1 – Ensure school disciplinary practices account for a student’s foster care status.

Texas CASA Concerns:

The trauma that children in the child welfare system have experienced can lead to a variety of behavioral and emotional challenges, some of which can manifest in classroom settings. The cumulative risk factors youth in care face, including maltreatment, poverty and parental mental health challenges contribute to poor educational outcomes for including heightened likelihood of school discipline. Texas data shows that nearly 47 percent of youth in foster care have attended two or more schools in one year. Foster youth who change schools frequently are more likely to be expelled or suspended than their peers who are not in foster care.

Texas CASA Recommendations:

  • Schools should consider how a student’s foster care status contributed to a disciplinary infraction and use that as a mitigating factor under TEC Sec. 37.001(a)(4) in deciding what action to take.
  • The school should consider referring the student to supports or services rather than making a disciplinary referral.

Legislation Filed:

Policy #2 – Cleaning up statutory provisions related to surrogate parents in educational settings.

Texas CASA Concerns:

Federal and state law allow a person who meets the definition of a “parent” to make special education decisions for a child who is, or may be, eligible for special education services; foster parents are included in that definition. If a parent cannot be identified or located, a “surrogate parent” must be appointed by either the child’s school district or the court. For a child in DFPS conservatorship who does not have a foster parent or other caregiver able or willing to act as a parent for special education decision-making, a surrogate parent is a key player in ensuring the child receives needed services and that student’s rights under special education law are protected.

Changes made to the Texas Education Code regarding surrogate parents during the 85th Legislative Session helped clarify when a surrogate is needed and what steps should be taken if the surrogate is not fulfilling their role. However, a review of the law brought to light some gaps in the processes surrounding surrogate parents.

Texas CASA Recommendations:

  • Clarify that not all state employees are prohibited from acting as a surrogate parent, but only employees of the state or local education agency or any other agency involved in the education or care of the child, including DFPS.
  • Direct the school district to notify DFPS when a surrogate parent has been appointed by the district for a child in DFPS managing conservatorship.
  • Clarify that if a court appoints a surrogate parent for a child and the school district determines that the surrogate parent is not properly performing their required duties, the district shall consult with DFPS regarding whether a new surrogate parent should be appointed for the child. If DFPS agrees with the school district that the court-appointed surrogate parent is unable or unwilling to act in the surrogate parent capacity, DFPS must request the court review the appointment and enter necessary orders to ensure the child has a surrogate parent who can perform the duties required by law.

Legislation Filed:

Policy #3 – Improve the ability of higher education liaisons to effectively provide outreach and services to students currently or formerly in foster care.

Texas CASA Concerns:

There is a wide discrepancy in the percentage of youth in foster care who state they want to attend college and the percentage who actually graduate. This failure to complete a college education greatly limits future occupational options for these youth and increases the possibility they will experience negative outcomes such as adult poverty.

State law requiring public education institutions to provide a liaison office to assist students formerly in foster care, has been an important step in improving these educational outcomes of these students by ensuring they are connected to appropriate services and supports while they are at that institution. Texas CASA and other advocates have developed recommendations to continue efforts to improve educational outcomes for youth currently and formerly in care.

Texas CASA Recommendations:

  • Require institutions of higher education utilize financial aid and other application information to identify students who may have been in foster care or may be foster care alumni, and provide this information to foster care liaisons.
  • Require the liaison officers to provide these students with information about support services available to them on campus.
  • Allow liaison officers to participate in relevant training that serves to better assist children formerly in foster care.

Legislation Filed:

What can I do to help?

Join our movement! If you’re not yet involved with CASA, consider taking the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer, or making a donation to support our work.

If you are specifically interested in the ins and outs of educational advocacy for children in foster care, check out our Educational Advocacy Guidebook and Pocket Guide.

If you are specifically interested in legislative advocacy and supporting CASA’s legislative priorities, consider joining your CASA program’s Legislative Advocacy Team (LAT). If your program does not have a LAT and you would like more information on starting one, contact Texas CASA Legislative Advocacy Coordinator Ann Strauser Palmer at .

As mentioned above, you can also follow our Bill Tracker for an up-to-date snapshot of the child welfare bills filed this session.

Check out our other CASA Deep Dives!


If you have any questions or would like more information on this or any of our legislative priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session, contact the Public Policy team at .

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