• September 2009
  • Vol. 10, No. 7

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Texas Shines in Educational Services

Texas' most recent Federal Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) demonstrated that the State's extensive efforts to improve educational outcomes for children and youth in the child welfare system have paid off. After Texas' first CFSR in 2002 indicated that too many youth involved with child welfare also experienced school-related challenges, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) developed a comprehensive plan to address both the assessment of educational needs and the provision of education services. The result was a jump from the 85-percent rating of 2002 to a 97-percent rating of "strength" for "educational needs of the child" when the 2008 CFSR was completed.

Between the 2002 and 2008 CFSRs, DFPS implemented a number of initiatives aimed at challenges related to educational advocacy, school record maintenance, and data collection and monitoring. Stakeholders around the State—including from the courts, parent and foster parent groups, community resources, and the school system—as well as Casey Family Programs (which started providing technical assistance prior to the first CFSR), worked with DFPS to develop a series of strategies to ensure the best educational outcomes for children and youth in foster care. The youth voice was especially important in this process, as youth in foster care spoke out about the importance of school and school activities for their well-being. Three of the most significant initiatives were the following:

  • Texas created Education Specialists in each of its 11 regions and at the State level. The Education Specialist is the local expert and vital link between the child welfare and education systems. The regional Education Specialist serves as a resource for the frontline caseworker in the development of children's education plans and helps resolve problems. The Education Specialist at the State level develops statewide policy and provides additional resources to support efforts to improve education outcomes for youth.
  • All children in legal custody of the child welfare system (conservatorship) have an education portfolio. The portfolio is a hard-copy notebook that can contain all of a child's educational records, including report cards, transcripts, educational plans, and other vital records. Caregivers keep the portfolio up to date, and caseworkers keep copies of portfolio items. When youth change placements and/or leave foster care, their portfolio goes with them.
  • The importance of children's educational outcomes is highlighted in DFPS training and monitoring. Internal stakeholders, such as CPS staff and caseworkers, and external stakeholders—such as foster parents, court-appointed special advocates, school personnel, and judges—receive training on educational advocacy, resources, and services. The youth voice is a key part of that training. In addition, monitoring children's education experiences and outcomes remains a high priority for DFPS, as executive staff use the data to evaluate their efforts and plan new initiatives.

Texas also has made significant strides in providing youth with educational opportunities beyond high school. All youth who age out of foster care are eligible for a tuition/fee waiver to any of the State's public colleges and universities. This opportunity, mandated by the Texas Legislature, was recently expanded to include youth who leave foster care to permanent placement with a relative—which is consistent with provisions in the newly enacted Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. To ensure that youth who have been in foster care are ready for college, community colleges around the State reach out to high school students to offer tutoring and mentoring, "college readiness" camps, and other opportunities to prepare for college. For example, the Austin Community College system has a counselor identified as "Campus Champion" to provide one-on-one support to former foster youth to address their specialized legal, medical, housing, and financial needs.

Even with these gains in education outcomes, Texas DFPS realizes that challenges remain. One of these is the lack of placement stability that many children experience—a challenge that makes it difficult to keep children in their home schools. To address this, DFPS is focusing on strengthening placement capacity so that resource families are located where they are most needed and able to meet specialized needs. Other areas of focus in Texas include data sharing with the statewide education system, addressing education needs of incarcerated youth, ensuring that children in in-home cases receive appropriate assessments and services, accessing pre-kindergarten for eligible children, and continuing to incorporate the youth voice in training and policy.

For more information on Texas' 2008 CFSR, visit the DFPS website:

www.dfps.state.tx.us/About/Title_IV-B_State_Plan/2008_State_Plan/default.asp

For information on how the Austin Community College system supports former foster youth, visit the website:

www.austincc.edu/fca

Many thanks to Liz Kromrei, Texas CPS Director of Services, and Kristine Mohajer, State Education Specialist, for providing the information for this article.

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