WASHINGTON —Sen. Mary Landrieu said Tuesday that her Uninterrupted Scholars Act legislation can help hundreds of thousands of foster children stay on track in their schools.
The legislation was signed into law on Monday by President Barack Obama.
The new law is intended to fix a loophole that prevented child welfare agencies from seeing the educational histories of foster children because of privacy regulations in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The result of that roadblock, said Landrieu, D-La., was that time-consuming court orders were needed to get the information to properly figure out in which grade levels the students belonged and what additional educational support they needed.
The new law adds child welfare agencies to the list of approved entities with direct access to a student’s educational records.
“It was just outrageous because these foster children are our children,” Landrieu said Tuesday during a conference call. “The government wasn’t doing its job very well because one hand didn’t know what the other hand was doing.”
The nation has about 500,000 foster children, most of whom are suffering because “their families are disintegrating around them” and the government has assumed their care. “The children get labeled and then they get lost,” she said.
The new law is a quick fix that costs nothing and can make huge improvements in their lives, she said.
Landrieu gave significant credit for the new law to the Foster Youth Internship Program run by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Congressional interns from the program were the first to point out the need for the change in the law, she said.
One of those interns pushing for the change was 22-year-old Harold “R.J.” Sloke, of South Carolina, who was interning in the office of Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Last week, Sloke, a student at George Mason University, started working in Landrieu’s office as a new staff assistant.
Sloke, who was in foster care for six years, said he attended 12 different high schools and he was moved from one “maximum-security group home” to another.
Sloke said the new legislation is a “common sense” solution that could have helped him progress faster in school and avoid a lot of educational delays.
Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary George Sheldon said he was impressed by how quickly the legislation was approved by Congress in a bipartisan fashion.
“It’s one of the single most important things we can do to improve the lives of children in foster care,” Sheldon said. “Too many children are aging out (of foster care programs) without a high school diploma.”
The only problem with the legislation, Landrieu said, was some Republican opposition to her including researchers to access some education records in order to evaluate the success of foster care programs. As a result, that language was removed, she said.
Landrieu co-chairs the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and has made such causes among her top priorities.
Landrieu has two adopted children.