• July/August 2013
  • Vol. 14, No. 6

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Site Visit: Focusing on the Education of Children in Foster Care

In fiscal year 2011, the Children's Bureau released a funding opportunity announcement titled "Education System Collaborations to Increase Educational Stability" and awarded 10 17-month grants. The State of Utah Department of Human Services (DHS) received one of these awards to implement its CASA Volunteers as Education Advocates, System Liaisons, Facilitators, and Role Models project. The primary focus of this statewide project, which ended in February 2013, is to utilize volunteers from the existing State Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program to gather information about the education status of children in foster care and, if needed, serve as education advocates for them.

The CASAs use a one-page form developed by the project to collect education information about the children in their cases. The following are some of the questions on the form:

  • Type of school setting (e.g., Youth In Custody classroom, mainstream, special education)?
  • How many missed days of school this year? Why?
  • Date of last education evaluation or assessment? Results?
  • Is the child on target academically? Explain.
  • Does the child have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a Standardized Education Plan (SEP), or a Section 504? If so, is the plan meeting the child's needs?
  • Any barriers to participation in extracurricular activities?

CASAs collect the information by working with teachers, other school staff, the child's family, therapists, and others. Because of the confidential nature of the information the CASAs are trying to gather, they sometimes meet resistance from school staff or others. They carry identification badges and paperwork that show they are entitled to education information about the children they are supporting.

The CASAs generally complete the form before each review hearing. After the CASAs complete the form, they provide it concurrently to a CASA coordinator in their district and the guardian ad litem. The coordinator distributes the form to the other parties, including the other attorneys, the judge, and the caseworker, who review the form prior to the hearing. During the hearing, the judge may mention the form and even directly ask the CASA questions about the child's education status.

The CASAs are not required to provide education advocacy for the children they support, but they are encouraged to by the project when the need arises.

When the project began, there were 197 CASAs, and as of January 2013, there were 526 CASAs. The project has used various strategies to recruit CASAs, including the customization of a video by the National CASA Association for audiences in Utah. The 3-minute video is available on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j77tCpk7cCo&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Aside from benefiting the child by having another supportive adult in their lives who is focused on their education, this project helps the professionals involved in the case. Caseworkers know they will not need to track down education information, which frees them to concentrate on other aspects of the case. The judges are also grateful for the additional information. One judge noted that the education form and other additional information received from the CASA help her with case decision-making. She also explained how having the CASA and others involved in the case focus on education helps all parties see they are on the same team, particularly for the birth family. It helps show that everyone is looking out for the child's best interests and reduces suspicions about others' intentions. 

For more information about this project, contact Laurieann Thorpe, State Education Specialist, lthorpe@utah.gov. The full site visit report will soon be posted on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website:

https://www.childwelfare.gov/management/funding/funding_sources/cbreports.cfm

CASA Volunteers as Educational Advocates, System Liaisons, Facilitators, and Role Models is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award 90CO1074). This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits.

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