When children are removed from their homes and placed in foster care, due to abuse or neglect, the state takes responsibility for those children, for their safety, health and well-being. The state also takes responsibility for their success in school. But that responsibility is shared across multiple agencies, with disappointing results. That’s why FosterEd: Arizona’s Pima County demonstration project is so exciting.
Research consistently shows that students in foster care are struggling in school leaving them ill equipped to become self-sufficient. The cost to these children and society is extraordinary. More than 22% of former foster children experience homelessness, 25% spend time incarcerated, and unemployment rates exceed 50%.
For parents, access to current, accurate information about their child’s academic strengths and challenges is critical to effectively supporting the child’s education. Youth in foster care, frequently face an ever-changing stream of new adults in their lives from foster parents, social workers, attorneys, judges, and new teachers if the child changes schools. These new adults need information about the child’s education related, as do adults already connected to the child, such as biological parents and other relatives.
FosterEd is an initiative of the National Center for Youth Law aimed at improving the educational experience and outcomes of foster youth. It is guided by a framework that all foster youth should have an Education Champion who can support the student’s long-term education success, and an Education Team of engaged adults, including the Education Champion, caregivers, teachers, social workers and the youth, who develop and support an individualized Education Case Plan based on an assessment of the student’s educational strengths and needs.
In 2014 FosterEd: Arizona launched a demonstration site in Pima county with local education, child welfare, behavioral health and judicial agencies. Since the program began more than 300 students in foster care have been served. According to an independent evaluation of the efforts first to years “the increased visibility of the educational needs of foster youth, and a better understanding of the education system among adults in the youth’s life, was cited as an important achievement of the FosterEd program.” Another key finding of this evaluation was that the vast majority of foster youth who entered FosterEd with less than a 95 percent attendance rate increased their attendance. Perhaps most impressively the evaluator found that 67% of the academic and social development goals set for foster students by their Education teams were achieved.
Foster Youth in Arizona need and deserve our collective A-Game. This is why we applaud the recent news of Governor Doug Ducey signing legislation that gives school-age foster children enrollment preference at the public school of their choice.
Michelle (Francois) Traiman is Director of NCYL’s Foster Youth Education Initiative (Foster Ed). Traiman brings more than 20 years of experience in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors, as well as substantial expertise in child welfare and education. Most recently, she served as the Associate Director of Child Welfare with the Stuart Foundation, where she led a major initiative to improve education outcomes for foster youth across California. Her life’s work has been focused on helping young people realize the vastness of their potential and supporting systems change efforts that put the needs of youth at the center of policies and practices.