Putting a spotlight on the needs of foster youth

Putting a spotlight on the needs of foster youth

(Calif.) As a population targeted for new state support, foster youth continue to struggle – a fact that prompted the California School Boards Association to launch an initiative to raise awareness and offer strategies for improving safety, stability and uninterrupted access to education for this at-risk group of students.

The #Action4FosterYouth campaign, launched in early May in recognition of National Foster Care Month, is part of an ongoing effort by the organization to help improve conditions for the state’s 43,000 foster youth that often impede their chances of graduating from high school and living a productive, successful life.

“Foster youth have a whole host of needs that typical students don’t have and most people, I don’t think, are even aware of the life challenges that these kids face,” Chris Ungar, CSBA president, told Cabinet Report. “It’s our responsibility as an organization to make sure that school boards have the tools that they need to create policies that align with the law and that support these students.”

Students in foster care, according to a 2013 report titled “The Invisible Achievement Gap,” have among the lowest scores in English-language arts and mathematics of any subgroup as well as having the highest dropout rate – nearly three times that of other students – and the lowest high school graduation rate of any subgroup.

Using data from 2009-10, the study, conducted by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, also found that students in foster care are more likely to change schools during the school year, more likely to be enrolled in low-performing schools, less likely to participate in state assessments, and significantly more likely to be enrolled in nontraditional schools.

In an attempt to reverse these negative trends, California’s Local Control Funding Formula – the state’s new education finance system adopted in 2013 – included foster youth as one of several subsets of disadvantaged students for whom districts receive extra funding. Legislation adopted last fall significantly recast the public school system’s safety net for foster youth by, among other things, creating regional support networks overseen by county offices of education and making services available to more of these disadvantaged students.

In addition to providing nearly $25.4 million in grants for that work, AB 854 also established numerous program rules, including the requirement that school districts report specific information about foster youth in state-mandated Local Control Accountability Plans.

The CSBA campaign features a fact sheet titled, “Our Foster Youth: What School Boards Can Do,” and a series of three brief videos illuminating the experiences of foster youth, and best practices for implementing policies and programs to support the academic and social growth of this population.

“K-12 boards of education can help foster youth by aligning values, policies, goals and budgets to support the ability of staff to effectively serve foster youth through three core strategies emphasized by foster youth advocates,” the fact sheet reads.

The core strategies – safety, stability and support – include trained staff assisting foster youth with immediate identification and enrollment, increased emotional support to cope with trauma, minimizing school transitions, and encouragement and guidance for college planning and meeting A-G graduation requirements.

The CSBA website also contains a Foster Youth tool kit that provides comprehensive information on the education rights of foster youth along with step-by-step procedures to ensure foster youth receive the full benefits of laws designed to protect them. Also available are model policies for implementing new foster youth mandates, such as granting partial course credits to students forced to transfer mid-year.

While districts will receive supplemental dollars under LCFF for foster youth services, the state has also been funding the $15 million Foster Youth Services program as operated by six local educational agencies: Elk Grove, Mount Diablo, Sacramento City, San Juan, Paramount and the Placer-Nevada consortium. During budget negotiations last year, AB 854 author Assemblywoman Shirley Weber was able to help secure an additional $10.4 million which, under the law, will be used to fund the new Foster Youth Services Coordinating program.

All county offices of education, including those named, would have to apply for grant funding under the program, to be administered by the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office.

A key component of the legislation is that it expands to foster youth not living in a licensed foster home or county-operated juvenile detention facility all of the resources available to those who do. Current law does not provide that foster youth living with relatives are eligible for school support services.

Under the bill, county offices of education or consortiums of COEs are required, as a condition of receiving funding under the new Foster Youth Services Coordinating program, to create a plan that “establishes guiding principles and protocols to provide supports for foster youth that are aligned with the established priorities.”

The plan must, to the extent possible, facilitate on-going collaboration with local education agencies, county child welfare agencies, and county probation departments to determine the proper educational placement of the foster youth. COEs participating in the program must also establish local Executive Advisory Councils charged with regularly reviewing recommendations made in the plans. 

The primary goal of the collaborations is to minimize school transitions by supporting the placement of foster youth in regular public schools, rather than in alternative educational settings.

AB 854’s numerous mandates also require:

-- The state public schools superintendent to monitor implementation of the new FYSC program; to facilitate data sharing and reporting necessary to meet the requirements of the bill; and to review a county office of education’s Local Control and Accountability Plan for any information that describes their services for foster youth.

-- A FYSC program to annually meet minimum standards established by the superintendent as a condition of continued funding.

-- School districts to include information in their LCAPs describing services for foster youth prior to and after transition to the new FYSC program.

-- Charter schools to be included in the definition of “local educational agency” for the purposes of the FYSC program.

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