For children coming into foster care, staying connected to family and friends is one of the most important things we can do to help them recover and reduce the trauma of being removed from home. That’s why by law children in foster care have a right to remain in their school of origin.
I was an attendance counselor at a high school and ended up providing foster care for one of the students on my caseload once I retired. Prior to her placement with me, she had been placed in a teen shelter in another county during the latter part of her junior year. It was very important that she be able to return to the school where I met her that she had attended before she was moved to the shelter so that she could attend senior activities and graduate with her friends and peers that she had been with for the past 3 years. Because I no longer worked at that school, it was a burden to make the 50-mile round trip from my home each day to transport her. However, I also knew it was a worthwhile investment.
Initially, I didn’t know that there was funding available to reimburse caregivers for the expense of transporting a student in foster care to their school of origin. School of origin is defined as the last school the student attended, the school the youth attended at point of removal, or any previous school attended within the last 15 months where he or she felt a connection. No one told me about the education transportation reimbursement. I discovered the availability of this funding through the Alliance for Children’s Rights’ Resource Family Approval (RFA) Guide. When I initially asked my social worker about the transportation reimbursement, I was told I would not be able to receive it but I was persistent. When my RFA social worker was finally assigned, I asked her about it and she determined that I was in fact eligible for transportation funding.
Being able to return to the school where she felt she belonged helped the young woman in my care to maintain important connections and relationships with her friends, teachers and extracurricular groups. I saw the positive benefits that school stability brought to her in her daily life and in her academic performance. The funding to cover the cost of transporting her each day was extremely important and allowed me to continue to transport her to her school of origin.
Here is my advice for all those involved in the lives of students in foster care:
1. For caregivers and families: Learn as much as you can about the supports and services available to you. The Resource Family Approval Guide by the Alliance for Children’s Rights is a great resource.
2. For social workers and child welfare agencies: Create written advice that informs caregiver families about available benefits and supports including school of origin transportation funding and provide it to each family at the time of placement. Make it easier for families to access available resources. It only helps the kids!
3. For state policy makers: Make sure that the reimbursement for travel expenses is available at the time of placement and that all caregivers receive notice about transportation reimbursement. Without immediate access to support, the right to remain in a school of origin is often rendered meaningless because families simply do not have the resources to get the child to school every day.
Epilogue: The young woman in my care successfully graduated from high school and is doing well, pursuing a nursing degree at community college.