The Project for Youth Educational Success
The Support Center for Child Advocates (Child Advocates) through our “whole child” model of representation and social work advocacy, not only secures client safety and protection from further abuse, but also seeks to improve all aspects of our clients’ lives, including their educational problems. Child Advocates has recently launched a long- awaited initiative – Project for Youth Educational Success (Project YES!) – to address complex educational needs and ensure our young clients have what they need to succeed in school. We need your support to continue this important work!
The education crisis of foster youth has started to garner attention from lawmakers. A complex array of federal and state laws provides court- involved youth with substantive and procedural educational entitlements. There is great power in these legal entitlements, but targeted advocacy is needed to transform these paper promises into educational opportunities. When foster youth do not receive the educational opportunities they need and deserve, there is frequently no one to speak up on their behalf.
Education Needs By The Numbers*
75% of children who have been involved in the child welfare system in Philadelphia do not graduate high school.
90% of foster children in Philadelphia who come into contact with the juvenile justice system do not earn a diploma.
2-3: Number of times a child in foster care changes school on average each year.
3-6: Number of months a child falls behind academically with each change in school placement.
25%: Estimated percent of foster children with special education needs.
33%: Estimated percent of foster children with special education needs who do not receives the appropriate services.
* Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Drop-out Crisis, 2000-2005, www.projectUturn.net; Stotland, Janet, et al. “Special Education Decisions for Children in Foster Care: Everyone Has a Role.” Child Law Practice 26:2 (April 2007); Meeting the Educational Needs of Children in Foster Care: A National Perspective (2010). National Foster Care Review Coalition Report.
Why It Matters
Foster youth are frequently moved from home to home and school to school, which often leads to prolonged absences, delays in enrollment, inappropriate placements, missing records, lost credits, repeated grades and deficient special education services. Most foster youth are already at high risk for problems in school – they suffer emotional and physical scars, years of neglected mental health issues, and undiagnosed learning, emotional and behavioral disabilities. The educational obstacles faced by foster youth could be resolved through consistent educational advocacy on their behalf but are instead mismanaged and under-addressed, often with tragic consequences.
Thirteen year-old Kyra was referred to Truancy Court after more than 50 unexcused absences from school last year and failure to attend at all this year. The Truancy Court ordered the Department of Human Services to file a petition in dependency court, and Child Advocates was appointed as Kyra’s counsel with. Megan Rok, our former Education Law Fellow, assigned to Kyra’s case.
As the case proceeded, Megan discovered that Kyra’s mother had abandoned the girl and her five siblings, all of whom were in the care of the mother’s former boyfriend. Kyra did not have a legal guardian in Philadelphia and no one to make education decisions for her. Even worse was the possibility that Kyra is autistic, while never having received special education services.
Ms. Rok is representing Kyra in dependency proceedings, while also working to get her engaged in an appropriate education placement. Pursuant to the Court’s disposition at the recent adjudicatory hearing, Kyra will soon be evaluated by the CHOP Center for Autism—a first step towards identifying and meeting her education needs.
What We’ve Done
Project YES! gives children in foster care diligent, informed and zealous advocates who strive to maximize positive outcomes for our client base and ensure the enforcement of their legal rights. Our Education Law staff attorney Colleen Swim leads Project YES!, providing us with the resources and support to fully expand the reach of our volunteers and ensure children receive necessary educational advocacy in both court and school proceedings.
￼Prevalence of Common Education Issues in Project YES! cases
Through Project YES! we will:
- Negotiate and litigate in school proceedings for appropriate special education services for children with a range of physical, intellectual and behavioral disabilities.
- Create and implement an education screening protocol for early identification of and intervention for clients with education needs that require legal advocacy.
- Protect the rights of students facing suspension, expulsion or involuntary transfers in school disciplinary hearings.
- Intervene when emergent school issues require quick response, such as difficulties with school enrollment or stability.
- Develop and implement an education resource toolkit that guides volunteer attorneys and other advocates through the appropriate steps to resolve frequent education issues for court- involved youth.
- Provide in-house and public training on existing and new laws that impact educational advocacy, often in cooperation with the Child Advocates Outcomes in Behavioral Health Project.
- Consult with and support volunteer attorneys in cases where complex or prolonged educational issues arise.