Every two years Arizona Community Foundation and Helios Education Foundation invite a new initiative into Arizona. This year, they have chosen FosterEd, a non-profit initiative that focuses on improving the educational outcomes of foster children and youth.
There are about 14,000 foster children in Arizona and about 4,000 in Pima County. According to national statistics, only 56 percent of foster youth graduate from high school and only 13 percent of them go on to attend college. From there only 3 percent of foster children will graduate from college in comparison to the 27 percent of other young adults.
“It is really a tragedy in human terms but it’s also a tragedy in financial terms,” said Pete Hershberger, manager of FosterEd: Arizona. “These kids end up aging out (of foster care) and are ill equipped to be a productive adults.”
The goal of FosterEd is to connect the foster children each with a responsible adult who cares about their education, said Hershberger. FosterEd is an initiative for the National Center of Youth Law – a non-profit organization that uses the law to help guarantee that low-income children receive opportunities and the necessary resources and support to succeed in life. FosterEd will be working with the National Center for Youth Law, Pima County education, child welfare, judicial agencies and behavioral health to improve educational outcomes for foster children.
Arizona Community Foundation and Helios Education Foundation contacted FosterEd in January 2012. After continued discussion and a few test runs, it was decided that Pima County would be the pilot site for the FosterEd program. On Jan. 22 the pilot was launched. The pilot will be implemented into the six largest schools districts in Pima County: Tucson Unified School District, Sunnyside, Amphitheater, Flowing Wells, Marana and Vail. The pilot will run for two years and be privately funded by foundations.
The FosterEd program is all about meeting the needs of the foster child. Each child is led by what FosterEd calls an Education Champion. This person will be someone who knows the child really well and can stay with him/her for an extended period of time. The Arizona Department of Economic Security will recommend the Education Champion who is then appointed in the juvenile court. The Education Champion does not take the place of an education rights holder, which is a legal definition for someone who can make educational decisions, said Hershberger. Under the amended law of FERPA though, child welfare can now have access to educational information – allowing FosterEd to more actively be a part of helping a foster child.
Each child is part of a small person team – the Educational Champion, behavioral health workers, CPS worker, someone from the school or a parent and then maybe a child if he/she is 14 or older. The adult leaders all work together to help the child. This is done by way of Goalbook, a secure online tool that has a child’s social development progress, test grades, extracurricular activities and so on. Goalbook allows for the leaders to all interact and share data in order to make sure that the foster child meets the necessary goals. Also helping are educational liaisons who work as the go between among the different leaders. Sandy Stein, associate medical director at the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, says that she is fully supportive and excited about the FosterEd program.
“This program really focuses on education and supporting our youth which is something really needed for this population,” said Stein. “It will allow for kids to be successful in living with families and be successful from an educational perspective for them to be happy, stable, productive adults. This program 100 percent aligns with CPSA.”
After the pilot finishes in two years, FosterEd hopes to go statewide and be publicly funded by state agencies. For more information visit foster-ed.org/ourworkaz.html.