How Georgia’s New House Bill Will Change The Education Experience For Foster Care Students

February 23, 2023

In July of 2021, Georgia’s General Assembly passed House Bill 855 in an effort to protect foster care students from traumatic situations. Specifically, HB 855 mandates that each state-funded school develop protocol that assesses both foster care students upon their enrollment at a new school and currently enrolled students upon their placement in foster care. The purpose of this assessment is to determine whether any exposure to trauma has had or is likely to have an adverse impact on the foster care’s student’s educational performance – including both academic and classroom behavior.[1]

How does HB 855 actually work?

The General Assembly tasked the State Board of Education to adopt policies for use by school employees to effectively (1) identify foster care students, (2) conduct trauma assessments, and (3) create plans to best adapt the students to their new environment. The General Assembly recognized that foster care students might require – or already be entitled to – special education and related services, therefore mandating the creation of protocols by which to assess both necessities.

            To effectively implement HB 855, the Georgia Department of Education issued a Guidance[2] as to how local educational agencies (LEAs) may approach the assessments created under HB 855. Within 30 days of a foster care student enrolling in a school or an enrolled student entering foster care, LEAs should:

  • Coordinate with the student’s manager at DFCS to ensure the is identified in the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) for continuity of care and services.
  • Ensure consent is received from the current legal parent/guardian prior to the commencement of any screening.
  • Provide the student’s manager at DFCS with Educational Impact Screener(s) to be completed by Points of Contact for Collaborating Agencies.
  • Coordinate with the student’s manager at DFCS to ensure that Educational Impact Screeners are completed and uploaded to SLDS.
  • Collaborate with the student’s manager at DFCS in the development of the student’s Trauma-Informed Education Support (TIES) plan.
What is an Educational Impact Screener?

An educational impact screener is designed to assess the holistic needs of a student in foster care. Essentially, it is a set of questions that identifies basic information about the student so as to analyze any needs they may have. The Georgia Department of Education provides a Screener Example that school systems may use. The sample questions include:

  • Please provide the student’s last name/first name.
  • What is the student’s current school name?
  • What is the student’s current grade?
  • List the student’s strengths/current supports (in school and outside of school).
  • What are the concerns of exposure to trauma impacting the student’s learning and behaviors?
  • What academic supports are currently in place for this student?
  • Does the student have mental health needs?
  • Indicate all mental health supports currently in place for this student.
  • What are the number of foster homes/placements?
  • How does the student get along with peers?
  • How does the student get along with adults?
  • How does the student feel about school?
  • Does the student have any documented diagnosis?
What is a Trauma-Informed Education Support (TIES) plan?

A TIES plan is a comprehensive document made on behalf of the foster care student that outlines the student’s (1) relevant records, (2) current diagnoses, (3) known or suspected traumas, (4) strength factors, (5) risk factors, (6) known or suspected triggers, (7) academic performance, (8) current supports, and (9) recommended supports.

The TIES plan is developed by several individuals, most commonly the DFCS Case Manager, School Counselor and/or Psychologist, General Education Teacher, Special Education Teacher (if applicable), and School Administrator – together referred to as the TIES Team.

The TIES Team’s role is to decide what the student currently needs, to create a process for measuring the usefulness of the newly implemented supports, and to monitor the student in the future. Ultimately, the TIES Team’s goal is to develop the best course of action for the student moving forward to prevent future trauma or address current trauma. This includes identifying resources that may help the student manage their trauma, including educational placement and settings that best cater to the students.

All appropriate school and foster care staff should receive a summary of the resulting accommodations designated to the foster care student.

What if the student already has an IEP?

If the student already has an IEP, the LEA should instead conduct an IEP meeting to discuss how the results of the screening should be applied to the IEP. If the student is not currently enrolled in an IEP but is suspected of having a disability, the LEA must refer the student for a special education evaluation.

Why is this Important?

HB 855, and its implementation by the Georgia Department of Education, are important in a number of ways. First, this legislation recognizes the importance of seeing and addressing trauma in students. Students of all ages experience hardship that oftentimes affects their school life and academic performance. To put in place a system that not only identifies this hardship but addresses it will have positive impacts on both students and schools as a whole. Healthier, happier students lead to positive academic environments. Second, this legislation shines a light on foster care students and their unique circumstances. Not all hardship is created equal, so the development of a process that targets a specific circumstance is maximally productive. HB 855 is one of many examples of the way that Georgia’s school systems are evolving to target individual needs, and its impact is already being felt across the State.

[1] O.C.G.A. §20-2-152.2.

[2] “Educational Performance Impact of Trauma on Students in Foster Care (HB 855) 2020 Legislative Session,” Georgia Department of Education, September 2021, accessed through https://www.gadoe.org/wholechild/Documents/MTSS/GaDOE%20Guidance%20-%20HB%20855.pdf.

Susana Gude-Rodriguez

Associate Attorney