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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

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Adoption and school issues

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With the start of a new school year, there are many times when adopted children may be faced with challenges. These challenges may be everything from dealing with assignments such as creating a family tree, or bringing in a baby picture to class, or science projects that involve assumed biological-relatedness (see here for an example).

For adopted and foster children with IEP's or learning disabilities, there may be special challenges as well. This blog post will hopefully offer a variety of school-related resources for adoptive and foster parents.

First, the Child Welfare Information Gateway has several resources including articles you can download on topics such as:

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There are also several fact sheets from Minnesota Adoption Resource Network including specific grade level information (scroll down to the header of School Issues/Education).

This guest blog post was written by Amanda Talan.


Article: Is there a (transracial) adoption achievement gap? A national longitudinal analysis of adopted children's educational performance

A recent article published in Children and Youth Services Review by Elizabeth Raleigh and Grace Kao seeks to determine whether there are differences in educational attainment between adopted and non-adopted children. The article, "Is there a (transracial) adoption achievement gap? A national longitudinal analysis of adopted children's educational performance," also attempts to highlight potential educational distinctions between same-race and transracial adoptees. The report provides surprising results-- the study found that transracial adoptees perform better than their non-adopted counterparts (children in biological families) and that "white same race" adoptees perform significantly worse when compared to children in biological families.

Article strengths include the fact the report acknowledges that successful educational outcomes for transracial children do not diminish many of the distinctive challenges faced by this population as they age within a transracial family unit. The report includes research that highlights the challenges typically faced by older transracial adoptees, such as identity confusion.

I also found several limitations within this article. Although the article examines academic outcome "over time," the assessments are limited to kindergarten and the third grade. It would be interesting to examine differences in educational attainment at a time point when transracial adoptees are most likely to experience feelings of isolation or identity confusion. Another limitation within the article is that there were significant differences regarding the number of special needs children within each cohort. Special needs students made up 6% of transracial adoptees, 11% of children in biological families and 24% of white same race adoptees. Special needs greatly impacts educational attainment and it is very likely that this inclusion drove the study results. Another limitation of the article is that children within the biological families category were not separated by race, and there was no distinction between international and non-international adoptions within the "white same race" adoptees category.

This study defies myths that regard transracial adoptions as "not in the best interest" of potential adoptees. The article promotes transracial adoptions by reporting that these youth have better educational outcomes than children in biological families. Since I am aware of the various issues experienced by transracial adoptees as they age, I take this information with a grain of salt. Moreover, this study defies any myth that portrays white foster children as the "baseline" for foster youth comparisons, since this study determined that 24% of white adoptees had special needs.


Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) along with bipartisan support from fellow members of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth Reps. Tom Marino (R-PA), Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and Jim McDermott (D-WA) saw their bill aimed at improving educational outcomes of youth in foster care pass both the House and Senate on January 1, 3013. The members of the CCFY were supported by their Senate counterparts, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

One of the most challenging issues facing youth in care is having to repeat courses when they enroll in a new school because their placement changed. Children and youth often had to repeat classes, or potentially miss important classes they need to graduate on time.

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act will now allow child welfare agencies to access foster children and foster youth's education records to help with educational stability and to ensure that chlidren are not having to repeat classes as a result of placement moves. Under the current education laws regarding access to education records, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), social workers struggled in obtaining records that would help provide stability and smoother education transitions.

The Uninterrupted Scholar Act, along with the emphasis on educational stability outlined in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, strengthen the resources child welfare agencies need to improve educational outcomes for youth in care. While the Fostering Connections emphasizes the importance of keeping children in the same schools to lessen school interruptions that are so difficult on a child's educational success, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act helps when those transitions and placement moves do occur.

As reported in the Huffington Post, Representative George Miller (D-CA) stated,

"Throughout their young lives they may change care placements multiple times. Each placement means adjusting to a new family; often to a new community, new friends and a new school. Each move can put their educational success in jeapordy that's because the caseworkers who advocate for them as they move from one school to another often do so without critical information. Though current law rightly requires foster care workers to move children's educational records in their case plans, another federal law limits the ability of caseworkers to access those records in a timely manner."

This video from Fostering Media Connections provides a good summary of the issue.