Key Provisions of AB490

Ensuring Education Rights and Stability for Foster Youth

January 1, 2004 California voted in AB490 which imposes new duties and rights related to education of dependents in foster care including:

  • Allows immediate enrollment of foster youth in school despite missing records, immunizations or uniforms.

  • Requires transfer of records from one school to another within 2 days of receiving transfer request.

  • Allows foster youth to remain enrolled in and attend his/her school of origin pending resolution of school placement disputes.

  • Placement in the least restrictive educational placement.

  • Access to the same academic resources, services, extracurricular and enrichment activities as all other children.

  • All school placement and educational decisions are determined by the child's best interest.

  • Allows foster children to remain in their school of origin for the duration of the school year when placement changes (if in the child's best interest).

  • County placing agencies must consider educational stability and consider home placements in the child's school attendance area.

  • The foster youth educational liaison ensures proper placement, transfer and enrollment in school.

  • LEAs and social workers/probation officers jointly responsible for timely transfer of records when foster youth change schools.

  • Comprehensive schools will be considered the first school placement option for foster youth

  • Requires school districts to calculate and accept credit for full or partial coursework satisfactorily completed by the student while attending a public school, juvenile court school, or nonpublic school. Ensures that foster youth are not penalized for absences due to court appearances, placement changes, or related court ordered activities.

Educational Decision Making

School districts will generally allow whomever the child is living with or a social worker from child welfare to enroll a child in school. Caregivers, group home providers, and social workers are also often able to grant permission to attend field trips, review the child's cumulative file, and perform other functions that schools would normally expect a parent to execute. This latitude allows for greater flexibility in normalizing the child's school experience and meeting their needs. There are limits, however, to what a person acting as a parent can do.

While substitute caregivers, social workers, and others can make some decisions regarding a child's education, the parent will retain a child's “educational rights” until the Juvenile Court Judge makes a specific order (JV-535 legal document) to limit the right of the parent or guardian to make educational decisions for the child. When the Court limits a parent's rights, they must also appoint a substitute decision-maker, most often referred to as an "Education Rights Holder” (ERH).

Educational Representative

The ERH holds all educational rights a parent or guardian would have and is expected to make education-related decisions on behalf of the child. They are expected to have knowledge and skills, comply with confidentiality laws, and participate in school meetings. There are limits to who can become the ERH. For instance, there is a strict prohibition on social workers, school district employees, and group home staff serving in this role. Relatives, caregivers and CASAs are commonly identified to become a child's educational representative.

While the educational rights holder does not necessarily have to participate in every school function (as discussed at the beginning of this section), they are the only ones who can approve special education assessments and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Thus, it is particularly important for adults who are working with children in special education or with children who may need to be assessed to know who holds the child's education rights. The ERH must also be involved in suspension/expulsion hearings, as well as Manifestation Determination and limited credit graduation requirements meetings.

Checklist For School Enrollment

The following information should be provided to you by the placing social worker. Obtaining this knowledge prior to school enrollment will help to ensure the most appropriate and immediate school placement:

What school does my child attend and what grade is he/she in? The social worker routinely gives foster parents an updated Health and Education Passport which provides important school and medical history.

  • My child is already enrolled in the appropriate school when they are placed. Is there anything I need to do?

If your child will be staying at their current school, the foster parent must go to the district office and change the home address of the student and all emergency information. That way you will be notified in case of emergency, and receive other important school information including grades, conference notices, etc. FYS will also notify the school with an official document of the change in placement. 

  • Applying for free lunch.

All foster youth have the right to free lunch (and sometimes breakfast) at their school. Please ask for the application during the enrollment process, and ask how this works at your child's particular school.

Are there concerns that have not been addressed at school? Talking to a principal, counselor or teacher from the child's current school upon placement will provide enormous insight into your child's history and needs, and help you make better decisions about what can be done to support your child in school.

Is it in my child's best interest to remain at their current school? It is wise to consider the option of allowing them to stay if it is in the child's best interest, even if it is inconvenient. This is also a right protected under AB 490. Make sure to consult with the child's educational rights holder, the Foster Youth Services Program Coordinator (FYS PC) and the youth before making educational placement changes.

Does my child have special education services? Request that the school provide you documents that address special education services (an IEP) that are in place. In some cases, children may need a psycho-educational assessment if the child has learning or emotional disabilities. Please refer to the page about special education for further information.

Who holds educational rights for my child? Unless the Court has specifically limited the rights of the parents to make educational decisions on your child, then the decision-making remains with the parent. If the birth parent is not demonstrating the interest or ability to make competent decisions for their child, please discuss this with the child's social worker.

Does the new school have all relevant documents? Social workers and FYS staff can assist in requesting documents from a child's previous school. Transcripts, behavioral reports, attendance reports, and special education documents will all provide a good snapshot of how the child is doing, and provide information to the school in placing the child with the right teacher or program. Immunizations (and sometimes birth certificate) are also eventually required when a child transfers to a new school. Missing school records should not delay their enrollment. If you encounter any delays, please contact the El Dorado County Office of Education FYS PC for immediate support.

Getting your child enrolled quickly

If it is determined that enrollment in a new school is in a child's best interest, or necessary for other reasons, these steps will help facilitate your child's enrollment into school immediately.

All El Dorado County school districts allow you to enroll directly at the local school, while out of county schools might require you to submit documents to the school district or enrollment centers while determining what school has space for your child.

Bring these documents with you to enroll your child:

  • In some cases, you will need to show a letter from the social worker placing the child with you.

  • Transcript or grade report cards from the most current school.

  • Immunization records (and in some cases, birth certificate).

  • Special Education documents (IEP, psychological report).

  • Proof of residence (mortgage document or rental agreement, pay stub, PG&E bill, phone bill).

If they do not enroll your child immediately: The law requires the school district to immediately enroll your child in school, regardless of missing documents including immunizations. If your child has special education services or is in high school or expelled, it is customary to allow a few days for the school to determine appropriate placement. If you find the school district presenting barriers to immediate enrollment, remind them of the foster youth laws. Contact the Foster Youth Services staff listed on the front page if you are experiencing delays or difficulties.

Should I tell the new school that my child is a foster youth?  Many foster parents find that letting the school know that their new student is a foster placement is helpful in identifying resources within the school to support their child.

Did my child receive all credit due from previous school(s)? If in high school, did my child receive partial credits per AB 490 foster youth education law from all schools attended? Many foster youth lose semesters and even years from transferring schools when these credits aren't issued and calculated into the next schools transcript.

What about tutoring and after-school programs? Consult with the school directly to see what is available on-site both during and after school. Tutoring is available at most school sites or in an on-site program provided by Foster Youth Services. Should you require after-school programs for your child, talk to your principal or counselor about available options. Please check with your social worker about after-school program fees, as in some situations, a program may be willing to give a reduction in fees or have scholarships for foster youth. Should you need help finding programs for your youth, ask for a social worker, advocate or educational liaison to assist you.