By: Justin Pye
In Washington State, foster care advocates aligned with state representatives to pass a bill ensuring foster youth have a designated educational representative.
“Every one of use who’s had any kind of success in our lives’ had somebody watching out for us,” Janis Avery, CEO of Treehouse, a Seattle-based non-profit focused on improving educational outcomes for foster youth, said. Yet “kids in foster care growing up with a committee raising them” do not have that support.
And for those without support, academic success can become an insurmountable challenge. Youth in care graduate at a rate of 33 to 55%, depending on the length of time spent in foster care during high school, according to a Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSSIP) study.
House Bill 1566, sponsored by state Representative Reuven Carlyle, passed in April. The purpose is was to give foster youth in grades 6-12 in out of home care a better chance at academic success by assigning someone to oversee all of the child’s scholastic needs. This person would be appointed at a dependency hearing and trained to be a conduit from child welfare, to the school and child.
This builds on 25 years of educational advocacy undertaken by Treehouse. The number of students they serve will increase with the bill, which will be implemented in July. Avery says proactive planning is the best approach for addressing the community Treehouse and HB 1566 intend on serving:
“If we’re going to take kids out of their families, I think we need to assume that their kid’s in trouble, that there has not been good educational preparation along the way, that they’re going to be behind, that they’re going to need more thoughtful, more purposeful, more intentional planning and intervention to get them through school and on to a future post-secondary plan.”
The goal of this initiative is to increase the high school graduation rate and improve the college pipeline for foster youth throughout the state state.
The benefits would not only boost the potential of the students involved, but could improve the the financial health of the state.
Another WSIPP study showed the state financial loss for any high school drop out is $10,500 a year, for life. This money takes form in taxes not collected, money spent on incarceration and social programs etc., Avery added.
The educational representatives will correspond directly with the child in addition to: attending education meetings, exploring opportunities for extra curricular activities, providing reports to the court. Meanwhile the department of education, the school district and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction each have particular duties intended to follow the children’s progress.
“I think we really are going to have an opportunity to demonstrate success here. And I’m going to be the first to tell you, it’s going to be bumpy,” Avery said, “Our commitment is to learn from what we’re doing, to share our data and to be totally transparent about what’re learning and how we’re adjusting because that’s the only way we’re going to figure out what to do and get this right.”
Justin Pye is a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism. He produced this video while working as a Journalism for Social Change summer fellow.