BOSTON (SHNS) – Auditor Suzanne Bump and several Democratic lawmakers testified Monday that technology may not be able to repair broken homes or reverse the emotion or physical trauma experienced by foster children, but it can improve their educational experience.
Rep. Kay Khan and Rep. David LeBoeuf filed legislation that would require the Department of Children and Families to develop and maintain an “electronic backpack” for all children in the foster care system to ensure that schools have access to the education records they need to meet the child’s needs.
The bill had a hearing before the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Foster children, according to Bump, are frequently forced to transfer between schools, and the auditor said 45 percent of those children have individualized education plans to address their unique needs and learning requirements.
“Through all of this disruption, their educational challenges are often exacerbated by delays in new schools’ access to their academic records when a new placement necessitates a school transfer,” Bump said.
The bill (H 236) would require the DCF to create an “electronic backpack” for foster children that would include the names and addresses of educational providers, their grade-level performance, transcripts, school attendance records, and individual education plan, if applicable.
The sponsors said a model for this technology exists in California where it has been used in a number of counties. LeBoeuf said he became interested in the concept when he was approached by an elementary school principal and pediatrician in his Worcester district about some of the unique challenges they were seeing with foster children.
“Without the necessary information our educators aren’t able to provide the social and emotional tactics that are needed to make sure these children have a fighting chance like every other child,” LeBoeuf said. Khan said the bill received a favorable recommendation from the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities last session. “Hopefully, we can get behind it and see if we can get it released also from Ways and Means. I think it’s a very important piece of legislation,” Khan said.
The bill would require DCF, in partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to implement the electronic backpack system within a year of the bill’s passage.