opinion Newport Rhode Island

In 2021, I introduced a new law which directed superintendents to create an annual report on the academic progress of children in foster care.  The legislation was signed into law by the governor in July of 2021 and these crucial reports were due back to the General Assembly in September of 2022.  Advocates and supporters of foster care youth were ecstatic, and they believed that our foster kids were finally going to receive the attention and support that they deserve.

COVID-19 severely disrupted all of our students’ educations, but foster kids in our state were already significantly behind on most, if not all, educational success metrics pre-pandemic.  And of course, the pandemic and all the social, mental and physical stressors it brought have only made things worse academically for our students in foster care.  That’s why the General Assembly passed this law, so that our foster kids did not fall further behind in their academics.

Unfortunately, the intent of this important law has been stymied, and it was not until September of 2022 that the data was even released, posing a significant delay to these much-needed educational plans.  Now, May of 2023 is almost over and not one single plan from one single district has been submitted and our children in foster care have once again lost another year of schooling where significant and meaningful changes to their educations were supposed to be implemented.  If these plans are finally ready by September, that would equal a 27-month delay in implementation, which is completely unacceptable.

Our children in foster care are significantly lagging behind other children in every important metric.  Subject proficiency, absenteeism, infraction and graduation rates all show that our kids in foster care are not receiving the educations that they deserve.  For instance, chronic absenteeism affects 43 percent of Rhode Island’s students, yet for foster kids, the percentage balloons to 92 percent before entering foster care and 85 percent after entering foster care.  Foster kids were half as likely to be proficient in math and reading as their fellow students and graduation rates for children in foster care trailed behind other students by almost 30 percentage points.

Youth in our foster care system have already gone through so much turmoil and heartbreak during their short lives so it is imperative that we do not allow them to fall by the wayside in our educational system.  We owe these children the best possible opportunities to succeed later in life and this is not possible if they are academically failing.

Too much time has already been wasted and too many foster children have already left school without the education they need and deserve.  Will these plans be ready for the upcoming school year in September?  I sure hope so, because if not, we will be once again sending the message to our children in foster care that they don’t matter and that their future success is not a priority for the adults in charge.  Our foster kids deserve so much better and we must stop failing them.

Rep. Julie A. Casimiro, a Democrat, represents District 31 in North Kingstown and Exeter.

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