Foster children at risk

01:18 PM EDT on Thursday, May 26, 2011

By Lynn Arditi

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — Hundreds of children living in foster care bounce from one school district to another, increasing the disruption in their lives and raising the risk that they’ll fall behind or drop out.

Improving the educational stability and achievement of these children will be the topic of a forum Thursday at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work.

The forum, cosponsored by the college’s Child Welfare Institute and the Rhode Island Foster Parents Association, will be moderated by journalist and advocate Daniel Heimpel, winner of the Child Welfare League of America’s 2010 Anna Quindlen Prize for Excellence in Journalism. Heimpel is touring the country to advocate for improving foster care as part of a project, Fostering Media Connections, funded by the nonprofit Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington.

The federal Foster Connections Act of 2008 requires child-welfare agencies to work to keep foster children in their so-called school of origin, Heimpel said. But unlike a federal law that requires school districts to pay for transporting homeless students, there is no such mandate to fund transportation for students in foster care.

In 2009, about two-thirds of the youths who had been in the state system for two years or longer had lived in at least three foster homes, according to a report released May 1 by the Subcommittee for the Education of Youth In the Care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

“The federal law basically says it needs to happen, but it doesn’t say who is responsible for ensuring that it happens,” Lisa Guillette, executive director of the Rhode Island Foster Parents Association, said.

In Rhode Island, about 650 children 6 to 18 years old were in state foster care as of Jan. 1, according to Rhode Island Kids Count.

State child-welfare officials have increased to $50 the daily stipend normally given to foster-care providers for those are agree to take children on short notice who otherwise would be placed in childrens’ shelters. The additional money for these “emergency-response” foster care providers, Guillette said, will help families cover expenses such as transporting children to and from school.

“That’s a really substantive first step,” Guillette said. “The question now is, what happens if the placement is extended beyond 30 days” and the additional stipend ends.

The panel speakers at the forum include Kevin Aucoin, interim director of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families; David Sienko, director of the state Department of Education Office of Student Community and Academic Supports; Anna Cano-Morales, Rhode Island-CAN director of Strategic Partnerships; Tony Glantz, interim director of the Rhode Island College Child Welfare Institute; Guillette, of the Foster Parents Association; Trisha Molloy, a DCYF caseworker; and Kendell Lance, a nursing student who grew up in foster care.