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Advocacy for the Educational Rights of Youth in Foster Care

Patty Lindley

Published on: December 17, 2013

ParentMap and Carter Subaru have partnered with Treehouse to bring readers information about and perspectives of those impacted by foster care. This month: Advocacy for the Educational Rights of Youth in Foster Care.

Every child has a right to an education

Youth in foster care often times do not have their educational rights upheld.  They tend to be shuffled from school to school more often than they should be.  Their academic records don’t always follow them through these transitions.  When they are slipping behind, they aren’t always assessed for support services like special education.

On average, foster youth go through three placements changes while they are in out of home care, losing 4–6 months of academic progress with each move.  Since many students do not disclose their foster care status to their teachers and because their past school records are often not available, it is common for school personnel to remain unaware of a foster child’s unique situation and needs.  Additionally, school teachers and administrators do not receive the training and resources they need to be fully informed about the foster care system, the educational rights of students in foster care, and how to best support the educational attainment of students in care.

Washington State’s youth in foster care are struggling.  They are twice as likely to repeat a grade, change schools mid-year and enroll in special education programs.  Their outcomes are pretty bleak with less than half graduating from high school, only 3% attaining a bachelor’s degree, and 33% ultimately living below the poverty line.

Treehouse Youth Stories: Meet Jeff
Jeff was in 4th grade when he disclosed to his school counselor that he was being abused at home. The school made a CPS referral, and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) removed Jeff from him home and placed him in a foster home. The school was not notified of the outcome; they only knew that one day soon after the CPS referral, Jeff stopped coming to school.

Over the next two and a half years, Jeff was placed in three foster homes in Washington and in one relative placement in Texas which only lasted a few months. When in school, he was unruly, inattentive and unable to do his work and ultimately failed most classes. His school behaviors and grades impacted his placement stability, and in return, his multiple moves made school success impossible. When he finally returned to Washington from Texas, he was placed in another foster home located near his old home and original school. By this time he was entering 7th grade.

Initially, the school wanted to retain him and have him repeat 6th grade. It was at this time that Jeff got a Treehouse Educational Advocate. The advocate read his DCFS file and tracked down his old school records, which had not yet made it to the new school. What the advocate learned was that Jeff had been diagnosed with ADHD in the 2nd grade, and had been receiving accommodations and services in his old school until the time he left to go into foster care. This information had never followed Jeff, and as a result none of the subsequent schools had been able to adequately support his disability and provide the right services for Jeff to succeed. In addition, the advocate spoke to the principal at the original school who expressed great concern about Jeff and bewilderment at not knowing where he went and what had happened to him. This important link had been broken, and this principal had been prevented from reaching out and helping him transition to a new school (or even trying to keep him in the same school).

Because of his Treehouse Educational Advocate, instead of being retained, Jeff had an expedited evaluation for Special Education, was qualified, and a tailored education plan was placed around him. Today, he is not only doing well in school, he loves it! His foster placement has been very stable, and his foster family is going to enter into a guardianship of Jeff soon.

 Treehouse Educational Advocates are working together with schools, social workers, foster families and foster youth to resolve the difficult issues that foster youth face, and to help remove barriers to foster kids’ school success. 

Educational Advocates:

  • Help students in foster care access education-related support services, including special education;
  • Prevent school changes when students’ placements change and pave the way for seamless transitions when school changes are unavoidable;
  • Minimize the effects of disciplinary actions that keep students out of school;
  • Assist high school youth in making up credits when necessary and identifying alternative high school programs to stay engaged and on track to graduate;
  • Train caregivers, social workers and students themselves to advocate for students’ educational rights.

Treehouse Educational Advocates are co-located in schools and Children’s Administration offices in every region of Washington State and advocate on behalf of more than 1,200 youth annually to ensure that their educational rights are upheld.

Get help from an educational advocate

If you are caring for a youth with an open DCFS file in Washington State, your youth is eligible for educational advocacy support.  Please make a referral for a Treehouse Educational Advocate through your social worker.

Learn how to advocate for your youth’s educational rights

Empower yourself to be an educational advocate for your youth by completing one or both of Treehouse’s online training classes: The Family Guide to Working with Schools and The Family Guide to Special Education Services.  Both trainings have been approved by the state for ongoing training credits for foster parents.

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