Supporting Students in Foster Care with ESSER and ARP Funds

Originally published October 2021

As states continue navigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allocated the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Programs (ESSER) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to local education agencies (LEAs) to respond to the emergent needs in schools and communities. The following information can serve as a guide for districts, community schools and stakeholders as they make local decisions regarding how to direct ARP ESSER funds to programs and initiatives to student, family and community supports to address the whole child needs of students in foster care. 

Impact on Students in Foster Care  

The U.S. Department of Education emphasized supporting vulnerable youth populations who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic including children and youth in foster care. The COVID-19 pandemic increased challenges and barriers for students in foster care and their caregivers including inconsistent access to schoolwork and classes due to limited access to and knowledge about the technology needed for virtual instruction; increased disruption to students’ living and school placements and disparate access to supplemental education services many students in foster care require. 

Identifying the Needs and Building the Plan  

LEAs are required to submit plans for the use of ESSER ARP funds to the Department of Education and Workforce. A first step in the planning process is to identify needs using the One Needs Assessment. Districts can then build a plan with a broad range of stakeholders as part of the ED STEPS process. As part of the planning process, LEAs are encouraged to analyze local data to help identify existing gaps in attendance, access to technology, academic performance and behavioral healthcare needs of students in foster care.  

General Funding Considerations and Practical Advice 

The ESSER ARP federal funds are one-time investments that should be managed carefully. These funds generally should not be used to provide on-going services, as such service may have to be abruptly terminated when federal funds expire. Rather, the funds should be used for one-time or short-duration intensive supports that address impact of the education disruption due to COVID-19 or that otherwise build the capacity of the system to operate effectively or meaningfully for students. More information on using ESSER ARP funds may be found in the comprehensive ESSER ARP guidance created by the Department of Education and Workforce.  

In general, when determining strategies to spend the ESSER I, ESSER II and ESSER ARP funds, the LEAs should consider the following five questions:  

  1. Will the proposed use of funds “prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus”?  
  2. Is this an allowable use of funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) or ARP? Click here for a broad list of ESSER ARP allowable uses
  3. Is it reasonable and necessary?  
  4. Does it promote equity?  
  5. Does it support returning students to the classroom?  

Strategies for Funding Supports for Students in Foster Care 

In conjunction with the addressing the five questions noted above, the LEA may use ESSER ARP funds broadly to support students in foster care and other vulnerable youth populations. Educational stability, consistent and regular access to transportation services, supplemental academic supports, wraparound services and school-based healthcare are critical to the overall well-being of students in foster care. Schools and districts can also utilize relief funding to address learning disruptions that students in foster may have experienced. Below are examples of how LEAs can direct their funds to address the additional needs of students in foster care:  

  • Invest in collaborative systems and procedures for transportation services for students in foster care to their respective schools of origin. Collaborate with child welfare and foster caregivers to ensure that all students, for the duration of the time they are in foster care, have consistent access to transportation to and from their school of origin. It is important to focus on ensuring transportation for students in foster care during the 2021–2022 school year as most districts fully transition from remote to in-person instruction. 
  • Purchase technology (including laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots or tablets) that enable students in foster care to consistently access instruction.  
  • Provide intensive (short-term) academic supports and prioritize students in foster care—including summer learning opportunities, learning extension programs, tutoring and other instructional support.  
  • Help students and/or caregivers meet their basic needs, including access to meals and hygienic supplies (such as masks or hand sanitizer). 
  • Invest in creating partnerships and relationships that can facilitate meeting mental health and behavioral needs. An example can include identifying and partnering with community mental health providers to support students virtually or on-site at school that can be billed to Medicaid or third-party payers.  
  • Make short-term investments that strengthen the coordination of services with other local systems of care including but not limited to juvenile courts, child welfare agencies, healthcare providers and housing entities. Form new partnerships and identify mechanisms that allow for collaborative service provision that can continue once one-time funds are no longer available.  

As a best practice, LEAs should coordinate with local child welfare agencies to identify and streamline, where possible, the supports provided to students in foster care and their caregivers. As always, intentional coordination between educational agencies and child welfare agencies remains essential to supporting students in foster care and their caregivers. 

Special Note: LEAs should expect significant oversight by state and federal auditors on the spending of their ESSER ARP federal funds. The LEA should have a written explanation of how the expenditure using these ESSER ARP funds was made to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that the LEA maintain documentation and be able to provide evidence that demonstrates compliance with the allowable uses of these federal resources. 

Additional Resources to Support Students in Foster Care 

For questions or more information, please contact  

Last Modified: 12/1/2023 3:40:05 PM