HARRISBURG, Pa. — A bill making its way through the Pennsylvania General Assembly would help ensure a smooth transition to graduation for young people who face personal challenges outside of school.

Senate Bill 324 would help address barriers to graduation for kids experiencing homelessness or who are in the foster-care or juvenile-justice systems.

The bill creates a point of contact at the student’s school to help support them as they return to the classroom after time away from the education system.

Kate Burdick, staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, said it can be difficult for families to navigate the process while children are also dealing with possible trauma they experienced while away from home.

“Having an actual human who you know is in charge of helping you to feel more a part of the school community to be making sure you’re in the right courses,” Burdick explained. “It’s just so important that there’s someone actually tasked with that.”

The point of contact would also immediately request the student’s records from the student’s previous school and ensure they are connected with mental-health services. Senate Bill 324 unanimously passed the Senate in June and passed out of the House Education Committee yesterday. It now heads to a vote on the House floor.

Advocates say children in the foster-care or juvenile-justice systems or who are experiencing homelessness often have to unexpectedly change schools for a variety of reasons.

Burdick pointed out when academic credits do not get properly transferred to their new school, it sometimes can lead to a graduation delay, which Senate Bill 324 also aims to address.

“It can be extremely devastating for the young person when they’re trying to reconnect with school, to have this host of system-level barriers put up,” Burdick asserted. “And what we have heard for many years from young people directly is just how completely exasperating this problem is.”

Only 75% of Pennsylvania kids in foster care receive their high school diploma or GED by age 21 as compared with 92% of students in the Commonwealth who are not in the foster-care system, according to 2018 data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Emily Scott