Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Higher education rate for foster care alumni is cause for concern

Groundbreaking summit to address foster youth education needs
Recommendations for lawmakers to be presented at the State Capitol
PR Newswire. New York:Jan 23, 2007.

SACRAMENTO -- 300 child welfareprofessionals, community leaders and youth will gather at 9:30 AM Tuesday, Jan. 23 in the Radisson Hotel, Sacramento, for the first-ever California statewide summit to forge solutions to the daily challenges and obstacles foster youth face in attaining an education. Solutions and recommendations from summit participants will be presented to lawmakers at the State Capitol from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in room 4202.

"The education challenges faced by the average youth today are multiplied ten-fold for our youth in foster care," said Miryam Choca, Director of California Strategies for Casey Family Programs. "Ensuring a sound education is key to upholding our collective responsibility to each of the 75,000 currently being 'parented' by the state and the thousands who have emancipated from foster care, to give them a fair chance in realizing their talent and potential in life."

Foster youth often face daunting odds in attaining an education. Many children who have suffered from abuse and neglect are already at a disadvantage educationally, and foster care has often been show to have a tremendous negative impact on their education outcomes. Foster children often experience multiple changes in placements and in school attendance. For every change in school, children fall three to six months further behind their classmates. Additionally, academic difficulties go unnoticed and are compounded by each displacement, enrollment can be delayed, school records may be lost, special education can be overlooked, and most of all, children suffer from the lack of a permanent adult anchor in their lives.

"For the 75,000 children in California who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect and placed in the foster care system, educational progress is a crucial factor in ensuring that each one of them reaches his or her full potential," observed Miriam Krinsky, Special Director of Policy and Reform Initiatives for the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles. "Stable and positive school experiences can enhance children's well being and increase their chances for a successful transition to adulthood and their ability to contribute to society."

Although national and state data are limited, research shows that there are serious issues that must be addressed for foster youth to achieve educational success. A recent study conducted in connection with legislation to mandate the Foster Youth Service Program showed that a staggering 75% of foster students in California function below their grade level, 83 % are being held back by grade three and 46% become high school drop outs, compared with 16% of non-foster youth. Fewer than 10% of foster youth enroll in college and of those that do, less than 2% graduate.

California has made solid strides in recent years in acknowledging the educational needs of foster youth. The passage of AB 490 in 2003, the recent expansion of the Foster Youth Services Program administered by the California Department of Education and the increasing support for model programs such as Guardian Scholars, a comprehensive scholarship and life support program at higher education institutions, are just a few examples of growing understanding and attention to the critical needs of our foster youth.

"Recent gains in helping foster youth achieve a sound education are important," said Stuart Oppenheim, Executive Director of the Child & Family Policy Institute of California, "but they are far from enough. Today, we hope to build upon these efforts by working together in new ways to help our youth succeed. The coming together of leaders and professionals from child welfare, education probation and the courts for the first time is a critical first step in achieving local implementation of policy goals through joint action planning, resource sharing and support."

Programs that have proven to be successful in supporting foster youth education such as the Foster Youth Services Program, Tutor Connection, a program linking teachers in training with foster youth as tutors in San Diego and Guardian Scholars will be highlighted as part of work group sessions to forge state and local policy and practice recommendations. Participants will explore statewide implementation of successful programs so that every foster youth in California has equal access to opportunities and supports.

The California Foster Youth Education Task Force is a coalition of 21 organizations chaired by Casey Family Programs and the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles dedicated to improving educational outcomes for foster youth.

Casey Family Programs is the largest national foundation whose sole mission is to provide and improve -- and ultimately prevent the need for -- foster care. www.casey.org

The Child & Family Policy Institute of California is a private non-profit organization working to advance the development of sound public policy and program excellence in county Human Service Agencies. www.cfpic.org


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