Joshua Christian, 21, a junior at Marian University, has become an advocate for youth in foster care. "When you move from one school to another, all the school curriculums and requirements are not the same," Christian said. CNHI News Indiana photo by Scott L. Miley
Joshua Christian, 21, a junior at Marian University, has become an advocate for youth in foster care. "When you move from one school to another, all the school curriculums and requirements are not the same," Christian said. CNHI News Indiana photo by Scott L. Miley
INDIANAPOLIS — Joshua Christian was raised in 18 foster homes in as many years.

“When you move from one school to another, all the school curriculums and requirements are not the same,” Christian said Tuesday. “Sometimes your credits don’t transfer. Sometimes you fall behind in your education. Sometimes you relearn materials.”

At Arsenal Technical High School, he was well behind his peers in reading skills. Teacher Ekaterina Wassel sat down with him daily to bump up his reading to freshman level.

Christian, 21, is now a junior at Marian University. He has become an advocate for students in foster care and has been recognized nationally for his efforts.

His story of upheaval isn’t far from the results of the state’s first report of educational outcomes of Indiana students living in foster care. In 2017, there were 31,042 students in the state’s foster care system.

The report, a collaboration between Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) and the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) was on Tuesday’s agenda for the Indiana State Board of Education.

The study of academic data found 91.8 percent of students in the foster care system are enrolled in traditional public schools, 5.2 percent are in charter schools and 0.1 percent in state-run schools such as schools for the blind, deaf or corrections programs. Non-public schools were not required to report foster care status.

The study found that of 378 potential high school graduates, 244 graduated, amounting to a significantly less graduation rate than of all students at 88.1 percent. The 64.6 percent rate for foster care youth graduates is also lower than the 82.3 percent for homeless youth. A separate study was conducted involving homeless youth.

The report in part blames the lower rate on high mobility of students, which leads to gaps in their academic knowledge. DOE is to find the root cause and develop remediation plans later this year.

“High mobility due to home placement changes can cause the child to lose faith in the adults responsible for a student’s safety,” the report states. “In addition to a potential loss of academic instruction and credits, mobility will also cause students to lack the desire to engage in socialization with peers/community out of fear of another potential home placement change.” Foster care students tend to be retained more often in earlier grades than later — most often in pre-kindergarten although some students could repeat a year in high school due to credit deficiencies.

When looking at statistics for 2017-18 and 2018-19, slightly more foster care students, at 3.9 percent, were retained in pre-kindergarten through grade 11 when compared to all Indiana students at 1.8 percent, as well as compared to homeless students at 2.7 percent.

One solution is to provide tax credits for not-for-profits that provide services to foster children and families, said Brent Kent, CEO of Indiana Connected By 25. His agency helps young adults transition from foster care when they have no permanent families.

The state report was brought up during Tuesday’s meeting of the House Committee on Family.

Reference was made to the report’s findings that the high school dropout rates are three times higher for foster youth than other low-income children, only about 50 percent graduate from high school and more than 40 percent of school-aged children in foster care have educational difficulties.

“We have a long way to go when we pull these kids out of homes,” state Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said. Behning called the report “very troubling.”

Attempting to rectify some problems, Senate Bill 1 aims to keep family units together by requiring the Department of Child Services to identify all adult relatives of a child and adult siblings who may be considered as out-of-home placements.

“If we place an emphasis on consistency in these cases, keeping them home if possible and when it’s not possible putting them with family members and trying to maintain consistency within the foster care system, we will hopefully improve outcomes,” the bill’s author, state Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, said.

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