Children who have been abused or neglected often have a range of unique physical and mental health needs, physical disabilities and developmental delays. In fact, nearly 70% of children in foster care exhibit mental health problems, and 40% to 60% are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Sadly, once they enter the child welfare system, these children face more challenges and often languish in foster care drift –moving from one placement to the next without ever finding a permanent home. Data indicates that foster children change homes on average once or twice per year while in foster care and many more times the longer they reside in care. As a result, they experience frequent school changes. Not only do foster children suffer academically when they switch schools, they also experience social, behavioral, and psychological difficulties as a result.

To help improve the experiences of foster children and support educational stability, earlier last month New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a new bill into law providing thousands of foster children in the state with access to a more stable education. The law gives New Jersey’s children entering foster care the right to stay in their current school if it is deemed in their best interest. New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) is now required to consider several factors when deciding what is most appropriate for the child’s wellbeing – and must make a decision within five business days. After the decision is made, the child’s school district (new or otherwise) will be responsible for the foster child’s transportation.

First Focus’s New Jersey state partner, Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), was an essential part of the formulation and passage of this important legislation.”This is a big win for New Jersey children in foster care,” said Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ executive director. “We know that school stability can help these children emotionally, as well as academically. It was especially important to get this done in New Jersey, which has nearly 600 school districts.” Currently, ACNJ is working to support the implementation of the new law—from circulating information about the law to applicable constituencies, to intervening on behalf of children who are having difficulty remaining in their current schools. It is essential for children to obtain a stable education while in foster care in order to successfully transition from care to independence and adulthood. We applaud ACNJ for their tireless work to improve the lives of New Jersey’s children.