Foster teen's story, struggle with school sparks change for foster care education system

Posted at 6:57 AM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-13 06:57:30-05

(WXYZ) — At 17 years old, when most kids are starting their senior year, Christian Randle learned he would have to start over as a freshman.

He went into foster care when he was 12, and despite taking classes and going to what he was told was school, none of his credits transferred.

It's a heart-wrenching reality that many children in foster care have been facing for years that has gone ignored, until now. Advocates are demanding change and accountability.

Christian said by the age of 7, his mother was addicted to drugs. He was often left abandoned and abused, until the state stepped in.

"Okay, boom, I'm into this new place called foster care. I'm lost and confused don’t know what’s going on," Christian said.

He was placed into his first foster home at the age of 12, and said he never went to school for a year.

"I was in school, I was doing school work," he said.

So it was an overwhelming blow when trying to enroll at a public high school as a senior. All of those classes didn't count. His state-funded group home didn't have an accredited school program, so in order to graduate, he would have to start over as a freshman.

"It was disappointment ya know, it was tiredness," he said. “I wanted to drop out."

Many children do. In Michigan, fewer than 40% of teens in foster care graduate on time, compared to 80% of their peers. People who were in foster care also are more likely to end up in jail, and experience homelessness.

"Education is the great equalizer, it’s the way young people are going to be successful in life, and when that is absent they are lost," Sara Gebrai, the program director at the Park West Foundation, said.

She said Christian's story has been the catalyst for change. More teens are coming forward, sharing similar stories, bringing their voices together and petitioning state officials and lawmakers.

Tiffany Tilley, the co-vice president on the state school board, said a bill is in the works that would require all residential homes to have state-approved and credited courses, but the urgent need for change won't happen overnight.

"While we are waiting for laws to change there are things that can be done policy-wise," Tilley said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said they have hired two analysts whose job will be to assess the educational needs of children in foster care and make sure their credits transfer.

"It matters to me that the change is being made, you know what I mean? That foster kids in the future wouldn’t even know that the foster kids in the past was going through this," Christian said.