Treehouse Survey: Disengagement in School Grows for Youth in Foster Care Despite Technology and Basic Needs Largely Being Met

Coordinated response from government, school and community necessary
as academic and mental health issues mount during pandemic

SEATTLE – Treehouse education staff reporting on the needs of 1,175 youth in foster care served by the organization statewide show almost half of students at least somewhat disengaged from school as we enter the third semester of remote learning. The nonprofit partners with more than 7,800 youth in care, providing access to childhood experiences and critical resources as they plan for the future.

“We’re at risk of losing a generation of kids in foster care to the pandemic,” said Lisa Chin, Treehouse CEO. “Disengagement is growing. Forty percent of students in care served by Treehouse are only somewhat engaged in school, and 9% are completely disengaged. Youth placement and school changes are now double their levels from the spring. If youth aren’t engaged in school—they don’t graduate—which is a necessary milestone for a successful launch into adulthood and independence.”

The survey, conducted in late November, also found 44% of our students in foster care need academic remediation, tutoring or homework assistance, and 36% of foster and relative caregivers need more support in meeting their youth’s educational needs.

“Technology access was a big concern at the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Overall, we’re doing well in addressing the technology challenges and fairly well in addressing basic needs,” Chin said. “Mental health concerns are significant. I don’t think that is surprising given what we’re all individually experiencing. Significant barriers continue to persist for emerging multilingual students and youth of caregivers who don’t speak English, and there are worrying trends with escalating placement and school changes. School districts appear to be doing better in meeting the special education needs of our students than at the beginning of school building closures, but improvement is still needed.”

Additional survey results by category:


  • 74% of youth have the device they need to access education, and an additional 22% have at least adequate access to a device for a total of 96% with access.
  • Only 7 students have no device, and 38 students have limited access to a device.
  • 70% have full access to internet, and an additional 24% have adequate access.
  • Only 6 students have no access to the internet. 67 students have limited access. 

Basic Needs:

  • 13% of youth or their caregivers/families require food assistance and 4% have high need.
  • 90% of housing needs are being met. 10% of youth or their caregivers/families require housing or rental assistance, and 4% have high need.

Mental Health:

  • 31% of youth have moderate or high need for mental health support. 

Special Education:

  • 6% of students with disabilities who have a current IEP/504 Plan have received no accommodations since August 1.
  • 23% of students with disabilities are receiving inadequate accommodations since August 1.
  • 7% of students have had special education assessments canceled or delayed since August 1.

Placement Changes:

  • 22% of youth have experienced at least one placement change since August 1 (twice the rate first measured between March 15 – June 30).
  • 11% have experienced at least one school change since August 1 (twice the rate between March 15 – June 30). Of these youth with a school change, 70% also experienced at least one placement change since August 1.

Treehouse urges a coordinated response from government, school and the community, and has been working with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to provide guidance and support to school districts. Treehouse also has been coordinating with the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), caseworkers and caregivers to meet the educational needs of children and youth in foster care across the state.

This is the third survey Treehouse has conducted since the pandemic started.

About Treehouse

Founded in 1988 by social workers, Treehouse is Washington’s leading nonprofit organization addressing the academic and other essential support needs of more than 7,800 youth in foster care. We’re committed to youth in care statewide achieving a degree or other career credential, living wage job and stable housing at the same rate as their peers. With fierce optimism, we fight the structural inequities that impact all of us. Learn more at http://www.treehouseforkids.org.

Media Contact:
Desiree Lindsay
[email protected]

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