Child-welfare agencies will now have direct access to the school records of children under their care, thanks to a bill passed in the waning days of the 113th Congress.
The Uninterrupted Scholars Act amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which gives parents control over their child’s educational records, by allowing an exception for social workers, who cannot otherwise access such records without parental permission. For foster children, social workers often serve in a parental role, though they are not legally that child’s parents. FERPA left schools confused about what records they could share without violating its provisions.
Foster children who move from school to school often cannot prove what classes they have taken, or if they are eligible for certain accommodations, said Teri Kook, the director of child welfare for the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation, which advocates on behalf of foster children in California and Washington state. Social workers could seek a court order to get those records, but by the time the order was received, the child may have moved on to another school, Ms. Kook said.
“The young person in foster care needs all of the adults in their life to link forces,” she said.
The National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, in an October 2011 report, noted that of the approximately 465,000 children in foster care, 65 percent of them had at least one change in school placement. Nearly 16 percent of the foster youths examined had six or more placements.
A 2008 law, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, requires that child-welfare agencies attempt to keep students in their home schools unless it is not in their best interest.
A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as Social Workers Can Access Foster Children’s Records