Senate moves bill expanding access to foster youth records

Senate moves bill expanding access to foster youth records

(Calif.) Adults entrusted to care for foster youth often lack access to children’s academic records, but a bill now headed to the Assembly could give caregivers the access necessary to help these students succeed in school.

SB 233–authored by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and sponsored by the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the National Center for Youth Law, and Public Counsel–seeks to outline specifically the records that foster youth caregivers can have access to even if they are not the child’s official education rights holder.

“Sometimes caregivers are assigned education rights, but often they are not, and in some cases, such as with residential treatment placements, caregivers are not even allowed to hold education rights,” Alaina Moonves, senior staff attorney for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, said in an interview.

“This creates a lot of confusion for caregivers and schools when trying to support youth in their educations day-to-day,” Moonves explained. “It’s important for those who are actively parenting children in the system, who we know are struggling more than any other student group in the state, to be able to have open lines of communication with the school and to be able to support the youth as needs arise.”

State data shows that foster youth continually have the lowest graduation rates, as well as the highest dropout rates at three times the rate of all other students. For more than a decade, policymakers have attempted to ensure educational stability for foster youth who may move between multiple schools in one year.

In 2004, the California Department of Education and the California Department of Social Services issued a letter detailing the importance of efficient information sharing by county offices of education, local school districts and child welfare agencies.

Last year, both the CDE and the department of social services jointly released a “Dear Colleague Letter” with the Bureau of Children’s Justice at the California Department of Justice attempting to clarify the sharing of foster children’s information, but advocates say the letter didn’t make clear what information could and couldn’t be shared with caregivers who are not the youth’s education rights holders.

Education rights holders have full access to a student’s records and are permitted to make all education decisions for a child. Caregivers are sometimes assigned education rights by the courts, but other times, a child’s biological parent may retain education rights even after their child is placed in foster care.

SB 233, which passed the Senate floor Wednesday, would update current education statutes related to education records to include all caregivers, including foster parents, relatives caring for the child, resource family parents in group homes, or short term residential treatment program staff responsible for the education or case management of the student.

The bill would also clarify what records caregivers can access if they are not the child’s education rights holder. Under SB 233, caregivers could access the student’s most current education records including grades, transcripts, attendance, disciplinary files, Individualized Education Plans and access to online parent portals.

 Any records should allow caregivers to monitor a student’s academic progress, maintain education records, and ensure the student has access to educational services and supports. Under current law, caregivers may be unable to enroll a foster child in tutoring or extracurricular activities, or even assist them with homework.

“Caregivers don’t always have access to the online portals where homework is assigned, or they can’t always check up on how the child is doing because the law is so unclear that schools trying to be respectful of the child’s rights or those of the education rights holders wouldn’t give caregivers access to anything,” Moonves said. “This bill should clarify that and give the access to caregivers that is needed, while maintaining the education rights holder’s role as decision-maker.”