Elementary School Supports and Services to Increase the Academic Achievement of Students in Foster Care: A Qualitative Interview Study

There is a significant achievement gap for students in foster care, evidenced by low academic performance, high rates of absenteeism and disciplinary referrals, and an overrepresentation in special education programs. Research indicates that the difficulties students in foster care face span domains of social, emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning. Consequently, it is important for schools to recognize and respond to the unique needs of students in foster care to provide the necessary resources for academic success. The intention of this study was to examine and better understand what programs and support services elementary school principals believe are most effective in assisting elementary schools students in foster care achieve academically. The research was conducted within a southern California elementary school district and the research sample included eight interviewees. Participants responded to questions about perceptions of the current programs and support services provided to foster care students in their district and their insight on additional programs and supports needed to foster a positive learning environment and ensure their continued success. The participants revealed three major themes that they have experienced through their work with students in foster care. These themes included Social and Emotional Supports, Consistent Communication and Collaboration, and Continuous Professional Development. Future research in this area might provoke policymakers, district, and school leaders to assist in enhancing the educational experiences and outcomes of students in foster care by recognizing their differing needs and guiding teachers to ensure all students move forward in equitable ways.