Methods: We performed a focus group study of a purposive sample of adults involved in the child welfare and education systems in a large urban area. We included five populations: foster parents (stratified by kinship caregivers and general foster caregivers); foster care provider agency caseworkers; Department of Human Services caseworkers; teachers; and school counselors. Two focus groups were conducted across each of the populations. Focus groups were led by trained facilitators and used a semi-structured interview guide developed by the research team. The groups lasted 90 minutes and were recorded and transcribed. Transcripts were entered into NVIVO 8 (QSR International, Victoria, Australia) for data management. Analysis was performed by three investigators using modified grounded theory to identify themes.
Results: Ten focus groups were completed with a total of 90 study participants (10% male, 90% female). Experience with the child welfare or education systems ranged from 0-2 years (13%) to more than 10 years (46%). Knowledge and implementation of policies related to the educational needs of children in foster care was highly variable among participants in each population. Across all groups, ineffective and limited cross-system communication was identified as a barrier to educational success. Behavioral problems and behavioral health service provision for children in foster care were concerns shared among all stakeholders. Participants highlighted the perceived relationship of foster care placement and school instability to child behavioral problems.
Conclusions and Implications: Implementation of successful cross-system strategies towards positive educational outcomes for children in foster care is complicated by variability in policy implementation, communication inefficiencies, and issues related to behavioral health. The 2008 Fostering Connections legislation provides an opportunity to develop and implement policies that can successfully mitigate the operational challenges experienced by stakeholders in the child welfare and education systems working with children in foster care to improve their educational success. ->