FosterEd, an initiative of the National Center for Youth Law that works closely with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education (SCCOE), recently received national recognition for its innovative work to improve the educational outcomes of students in foster care. The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), a national organization based in Washington, D.C., named FosterEd one of 15 local, state, and national initiatives making a critical difference in the lives of youth in foster care. Programs were selected out of more than 130 nominees and were chosen after a rigorous review that included a detailed written application, site visits, and interviews with staff and participants.
FosterEd currently operates projects in California, Arizona, and Indiana. In Santa Cruz County, FosterEd works in close partnership with local agencies and organizations – SCCOE, Human Services Department, the Superior Court of California, Juvenile Division, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and the Parents Center. Local implementation of the project began in early 2013, and has since touched approximately 125 cases throughout the county.
“No group of students is more in need of educational success than children in foster care,” said Michael Watkins, Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools. “Without educational attainment, many become reliant on the public welfare system, experience homelessness, or are incarcerated. I am delighted to be working with FosterEd to increase the number of Santa Cruz County foster children who experience educational success and success in life.”
Youth in foster care may face many barriers to educational success, such as frequent changes in home and school placements, the impact of trauma, and, for many youth, the lack of one or more responsible adults consistently advocating for their school success. Together, these and other factors lead to poor educational outcomes, including higher absenteeism and drop-out rates, and lower graduation and college enrollment rates. FosterEd works to improve these outcomes by proactively identifying each foster youth’s educational strengths and needs, and ensuring each foster youth is supported by an educational champion and strengthened by an education team.
To select a child’s educational champion, FosterEd works with community partners to identify a person who is likely to have long-term involvement in the child’s life. In many cases, the educational champion is a parent, whether a biological parent or a foster parent. Once the educational champion is identified, FosterEd provides one-on-one guidance and mentoring to increase their ability to support the child in school and advocate for the child’s educational needs.
Take, for example, a parent of a child who is in foster care and receiving special educational services. A FosterEd liaison might work with that parent to talk about the special education process, review the child’s individualized educational plan with the parent, and help the parent become an active participant in the child’s team meetings at school. With this newly developed skill set, the parent can be a more active and informed participant in the child’s education, which in turn leads to improved educational outcomes for the child.
FosterEd also ensures that each foster child is strengthened by an educational team. To do this, the program identifies the adults involved in the child’s education and facilitates a team meeting of those adults. At that team meeting, the group will discuss the child’s strengths and needs in school, and come up with goals that the team can work on in the coming months and years to help the child succeed in school. The team’s ongoing work for that child is tracked through a secure online education case-management system called Goalbook, which ensures that each team member is aware of all of the progress other team members are making, thereby making it easier to coordinate efforts. Research has shown that children, particularly foster children, are more likely to succeed academically if there is an active team working closely together to support the child. This is the basis of FosterEd’s efforts to build and support educational teams for foster youth.
Throughout FosterEd’s process, its staff works closely with the SCCOE’S Foster Youth Services team, Coordinator Michael Paynter and Educational Liaison Caroline Currie. According to Paynter, “FosterEd has been an amazing partner with the Foster Youth Services program in serving the students in foster care by increasing the advocacy skills of their educational rights holders and assessing for educational success proactively.”
FosterEd also provides community members an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children in foster care. The project recruits and trains volunteers to serve as educational mentors to support the adults involved in the lives of students in foster care. To learn more and get involved, please contact Kim Corneille, (831) 763-8997.
For more information about the project, please visit FosterEd’s website.