BOISE — In Idaho, there are 3,111 kids currently in the foster care system and 1,277 registered foster homes. Cassidy Littleton was one of the 1,800 kids in foster care in Idaho at any given time. One of the system downfalls she experienced relates to schooling for foster kids.
“I had to be transferred to new schools every time, which was really hard for me," said Littleton.
In 2015 the Every Student Succeeds Act was passed by Congress. The law offers certain protections for kids in foster care, to keep them in their school of origin whenever it's possible and in their best interest. It is an accommodation Cassidy didn't have at the time.
"We do factor in things like whats the commute time, so if you have a little one and the commute time is going to be two hours each way, you have to factor that in, or is it an option keeping them in their school versus placing all the siblings together, so those are the kinds of things we have to balance, but what's been helpful with that legislation is it really has brought the state child welfare agencies and school districts together," said division administrator for division of family and community services for Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Miren Unsworth.
There’s a new change on the horizon as well, which could improve additional access for these children. Legislation has been passed related to the federal funding stream and access to services. The legislation will be implemented in 2021.
“Our goal would be whenever possible to keep children in their home and prevent removal whenever possible and to wrap services around the family in order to do that," said Unsworth, "today, though, the primary federal funding stream is only able to be accessed after children enter care, so this will allow us to access those federal funds prior to children entering care if the family meets certain criteria around the child would likely enter foster care."
One of Cassidy’s big goals is to change laws surrounding person to person support for kids once they age out.
“If I could pass legislation that would require a social worker or some actor to be in the case plan, maybe from the age 17-21, that's required to check on that child and provide them with resources and could help or maybe help them get a job, I think we’d see a lot more success rates of children who come out of the system," said Idaho.
In Idaho, there is a minimal requirement for contact.
"The social worker must have contact with the child, foster family, and birth parents every month," said Unsworth.
Social workers can also follow up other times by phone or text, but the monthly in-person requirement ends at age 18 in Idaho. As of June 30th of this year, there’s nearly 250 about to age out and lose that personal support system. The Department of Health and Welfare says they’re always looking to see what improvements can be made.
"I think both at the federal level and the state level there's always new legislation that I think helps propel the system to do better and to keep us moving forward, so it doesn’t really stay stagnant in child welfare, it’s always an area where we know we can improve and do better on behalf of the kids we serve," said Unsworth.