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Key Information for Lawyers and Child Advocates About Foster Child Eligibility for Free School Meals

Hunger Resources

Fact Sheet

Key Information for Lawyers and Child Advocates About Foster Child Eligibility for Free School Meals

Key Information for Lawyers and Child Advocates about Foster Child Eligibility for Free School Meals and Other Government Nutrition Programs

Children in foster care are at increased risk…

Households with foster children are more likely to be low-income and have a lower average household income(1), which is linked to food insecurity. Children living in food insecure households face higher risks of health and developmental problems than peers in food secure households(2). Foster children face multiple threats to their healthy development, including poor physical health(3).

Related facts about the recent passage of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010:

  • The Act does not necessarily make additional foster children eligible for free school meals, but creates opportunities for NYS to enroll foster children for free school meals in a more simple and efficient manner.
  • Foster children whose care is the responsibility of NYS or who is placed by a court with a caretaker household are now “categorically eligible” for free school meals (or meals in child care settings) regardless of family income. Categorical eligibility means that the household is not required to submit a free and reduced-price school meal application to the school in order to qualify for free school meals.

There are now several ways in which foster children can qualify for free school meals:

  • Names of foster children may be generated from the local Department of Social Services (DSS) and sent directly to the school district.
    • Being included on this list confers categorical eligibility for free school meals.
    • No additional action from the household is required.
    • This list should be provided to each school district at the beginning of the school year and within 10 days of a foster child enrolling in a new/different school district.
    • In New York City, a list is already generated and transmitted electronically from the Administration for Children's Services to each school.
  • Households can still submit a free and reduced-price school meal application and check the “foster child” box.
    • Individual applications are no longer required; foster and non-foster children in the same household can now be included on the same application.
    • No additional information to prove foster status is needed, unless the household is chosen for verification.
    • Random verification is required in a small percentage of any household applying for free or reduced-price school meals. If selected for verification, the foster family can submit any court documentation or proof of the child’s foster status to confirm information on the application is accurate.
  • Households can submit documentation from the court or other child welfare agency proving foster care status directly to a school district. This document can be used in lieu of a free and reduced-price school meal application.

Additional comments:

  • These changes do not apply to children in informal kinship care where placements do not involve a child welfare agency or court.
  • As in the past, once qualified for free school meals, foster children remain eligible for the entire school year, even if they change school districts or leave foster care.
  • Including both foster and non-foster children in the same household on the same free and reduced-price school meal application increases the household’s size and may help the non-foster children qualify for free or reduced price meals based on income. The foster child is categorically eligible regardless of whether non-foster children are on the same application.
  • In addition to school breakfast and lunch, foster children may qualify for additional nutrition assistance programs such as the Food Stamp Program, Summer Food Service Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (including the At-Risk Afterschool Snack and Supper Program), and WIC.

How does this affect advocates and what can you do?

  • Encourage and remind your local DSS to provide a list of foster children to the appropriate school district at the beginning of the school year and throughout the school year.
  • Help foster parents fill out a school meal application if the DSS is not providing this list to the school district or if the foster child's name is not included on the list.
  • Help foster parents understand that including a foster child on a meal application will increase their household size and may help their non-foster children qualify for free or reduced price meals.

For additional related information:

(1) The Annie E. Casey Foundation (2008). Data on children in foster care from the Census Bureau. Baltimore, MD: O’Hare, W.
(2) United States Department of Agriculture. (2009). Food insecurity in households with children: Prevalence, severity, and household characteristics. Washington, DC: Nord, M.
(3) Jones Harden, B. (2004). Safety and stability for foster children: A developmental perspective. The Future of Children, 14(1), 31-47.

Topics - Hunger Resources: 
General Child Nutrition
Included Resources
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