A high school diploma is critical for long term success, yet until now, New York City (NYC) has known little about secondary education outcomes of the young people who have spent time in foster care. CIDI, with funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, undertook a comprehensive longitudinal study to examine the high school graduation rates of NYC youth in foster care and to identify predictors of graduation. The study reports, for the first time, the high school graduation rates of New York City youth who experience foster care.
The study used administrative data collected by the NYC Department of Education (DOE) and the NYC Administration for Children Services (ACS) to determine graduation rates of over 11,000 youth who spent time in foster care during their high school years 2005 through 2019. CIDI utilized logistic regression to identify the factors associated with earning a high school diploma.
The study found that although graduation rates had increased for youth in foster care over a 10-year period, in 2019, only 25 percent of youth with foster care experience graduated in four years. In comparison, 77 percent of all New York City students graduate in four years (NYC DOE, 2020).
The educational measures associated with an increased likelihood of graduation were higher 8th grade attendance and higher 8th grade Math and English Language Arts scores. Educational measures associated with a decreased likelihood of graduation were a disabilities classification at 8th grade, attendance at two or more schools in a given school year, and attendance in certain school districts.
Taken together, these findings suggest that the educational challenges of children who experience foster care often start before entering high school, that disabilities among the foster care population (which are more common than in the general population) hinder educational advancement, and that school instability (which is often linked with foster care placement instability) contributes to low graduation rates.
The foster care measures associated with an increased likelihood of graduation were spending more cumulative months in foster care and living in kinship care or a foster boarding home, which is consistent with other research in New York City. Spending some or most of the time in residential care was associated with a decreased likelihood of graduation. That children who spend more time in congregate care have lower graduation rates highlights the importance of keeping children in family-based foster care whenever possible.
The study’s findings about foster care involvement and educational experiences will inform New York City policies and programs with the goal of helping youth in foster care earn a high school diploma. The predictors align with services that schools and child welfare agencies can feasibly implement and monitor for purposes of accountability and actionable steps, such as collaborative education and child welfare initiatives. The dialogue and work required are already underway.