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School and Learning
Foster Children Can Stay in Their Schools

Are you the parent of a child in foster care or do you know a child in foster care?

If so, you should know about a law in New Jersey that was passed in 2010. This law lets children placed in foster homes by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P), formerly DYFS, stay in their current schools, even if their foster home is located in another school district. Before this law was passed, foster children had to go to school in the school district where their foster home was located. This meant that the foster child would have to change schools if the foster home was in a new district.

Why is this law important?

Children who change schools a lot have a hard time doing well in school. Many foster children change schools while they are in foster care. One study found that more than half of the students in the study changed schools at least seven times from the time they were in elementary school through high school. Foster children also experience other issues that affect their ability to do well in school. Foster children are more likely to be disciplined at school and repeat a grade than their classmates who are not in the foster care system. Many foster children miss days or weeks of school when changing foster care placements. Many foster children also have missing or incomplete school records. This makes it very hard for a new school to decide what children need when they enter a new school. Foster children are also less likely to graduate from high school than their classmates who are not in the foster care system.

Parents who have children in foster care placements can still play an important role in their children’s education and can help make sure that the children stay in their current school.

Why was a law enacted?

In October 2008, the federal government passed a law, called Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. The law is commonly called Fostering Connections. Fostering Connections requires every state to have laws and policies in place to make sure that foster children can stay in their current school and will not have to change schools if they are placed in foster care or change foster homes. In order to do this, New Jersey had to change its laws. These changes became law in September 2010.

What does this law do?

When DCP&P places a child in foster care, DCP&P must decide where the child will attend school. Under the law, the child must stay in his or her current school, unless a decision is made that it is not in the child’s best interest to do so.

To determine the child’s best interest, DCP&P must consider a number of things, including:

  • How close the foster home is to the child’s current school
  • The child’s age and grade
  • The child’s needs
  • Where the child wants to go to school
  • How the child is doing in his or her current school and the child's involvement in school
  • The child’s special education needs (if the child is in special education)
  • How long the child may be in the foster home
  • The time in the school year
  • Any safety concerns.

DCP&P must make this decision within five business days of the day they remove the child from his or her home. DCP&P must also try to speak with the child, the child’s parent, the child’s law guardian (lawyer in the DCP&P court case), and school staff from the child’s current school and possible new school.

Where does the child go to school while DCP&P is making its decision?

Under the law, a child will remain in his or her current school until a final decision is made. In certain cases, DCP&P can enroll the child in the school district right away. This can only happen if DCP&P decides it is not in the child’s best interest to stay in his or her current school and there would be a serious safety concern or a significant and immediate harm to the child if the child stayed in the current school. For example, this might happen if the child is placed in a foster home very far from her current school. In this situation, DCP&P must provide written notice (a letter) to the child’s parent and law guardian within two days of enrolling the child in the new school district. The notice must explain the reason for the school change. The notice must also include the name and location of the new school unless DCP&P feels that is it not safe for the parent to know that information. If a parent is represented by a public defender or other lawyer in the DCP&P court case, the parent should contact his or her attorney as soon as possible about this notice.

What happens when DCP&P makes its decision?

If DCP&P decides that a child should stay in his or her current school, the decision is a final decision. If DCP&P decides that a child should be enrolled in a new school, this is not a final decision. The child’s parent or law guardian may challenge this decision in the DCP&P court case. When deciding whether or not to challenge this decision, parents should talk to the attorney who represents them in the DCP&P court case.

What happens when DCP&P decides that a child should change schools?

When DCP&P makes a decision to change a child’s school, it must give immediate written notice (a letter) to the child’s parent and law guardian. The child’s parent or law guardian may challenge this decision in the DCP&P court case. A parent who wants to challenge the decision must file an application for review with the court within five days of the date on the notice. If no challenge is made, this decision will become final after the five-day period. The law does not explain exactly what to do to ask the court to review the DCP&P decision. Parents should talk to the attorney who represents them in the DCP&P court case.

What happens if a parent challenges DCP&P' decision to change a child’s school?

The court will schedule a hearing. At the hearing, DCP&P must show why it is in the child’s best interest to go to school in the district where the foster home is located. A judge will decide where the child will attend school.

How will the child get to school?

The law requires DCP&P to provide transportation between the child’s school and foster home until a final decision is made. Once a final decision is made, DCP&P must tell both school districts. The school district where the child’s parent lived when the child entered foster care must arrange and pay for the child’s school transportation.

Can a parent ask the court to review a child’s school placement in the future?

Anyone involved in the family court proceeding (parent, child’s law guardian, or DCP&P) can ask the court to review school placement at any time while the child is in foster care.

If you have any questions about this law or think that your rights or your child’s rights have been violated, contact LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). If you are not eligible for assistance from Legal Services, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.

8/11/2017