Left behind? Educational disadvantage, child protection, and foster care

Sarah Font, Lindsey Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Current educational policies for children involved with the Child Protective Services (CPS) system focus largely on the minority of children currently in or aging out of foster care, and target school stability and college access. Objective: The present study investigates the nature of secondary (high school) education performance and attainment and post-secondary (college) enrollment among youth with prior or current CPS contact and their low-income, but not CPS-contacted, peers. Method: Following a cohort of over 63,000 high school students in Wisconsin, we use CPS investigation and placement records, and public school records to evaluate associations between CPS involvement and educational attainment. Results: CPS-contacted youth have lower educational performance and greater academic challenges than their low-income peers. Youth aging out of care are uniquely disadvantaged with regard to on-time high school completion but complete high school and enroll in college at equal or higher rates than reunified youth. Across all groups, 55–75 % of those who graduated on time with “basic” or above English and math skills enrolled in college. Foster care experiences, such as time in care and placement instability, were not consistently associated with educational outcomes. Conclusion: Efforts to improve secondary education experiences are needed to bolster college and career pathways for disadvantaged youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106680
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Mar 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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