• February 2015
  • Vol. 16, No. 1

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Site Visit: Fostering Youth Educational Success in North Carolina

Data indicate that youth in foster care in Cumberland County, NC, were experiencing multiple placements and multiple school settings during their time in foster care. Child-serving agencies in the county, including youth and family organizations, social services, schools, courts, and mental health, had strong partnerships and used Child Family Team (CFT) meetings to decide the best course of action for youth and their families involved with child welfare. These community agencies, in partnership with the North Carolina State University Center for Family and Community Engagement and Department of Social Work, determined more could be done to improve educational success for youth. Using a 17-month Children's Bureau grant, Fostering Youth Educational Success (Fostering YES) was established and, throughout the grant period, developed youth leadership strategies and systems-of-care collaborations to stabilize educational placements and to work toward long-term permanency goals for youth. According to project staff, the logic model for the project was based on the belief that partnering within the community is necessary to overcome the barriers to educational stability and permanency for youth in foster care.

Fostering YES established a Project Advisory Council and a Youth Advisory Council to help guide the work of the project. The Project Advisory Council was supported by the Center and the Department of Social Work and composed of representatives from Cumberland County Department of Social Services, Cumberland County Schools, Cumberland County Juvenile Court, Cumberland County Department of Health, and a liaison from the Youth Advisory Council. The Youth Advisory Council was coordinated by a foster care alumna and youth from the Independent Living program. Project staff reported that having a youth council and a strong liaison between the two councils made youth feel as though they had a voice and it was being heard by decision-makers.

Focus groups of youth in foster care were conducted to determine their views on what promotes or interferes with educational success. Information from the focus groups was later used to develop a survey, which was completed anonymously by youth in care.

In addition, the project matched de-identified social services and school system administrative data, and used geographical information system mapping technology. These data were analyzed to determine the reasons for placement and school changes and transportation costs related to youths' movement away from their original schools. According to project staff, the challenges with analyzing the data were missing data elements and the difficulty in matching data sets. To more effectively track placement and school moves, Cumberland County Social Services developed automated forms. In addition to youth focus groups, project staff interviewed representatives from local organizations to ascertain available community resources to support youth in foster care.

The findings from the youth focus groups and surveys, community member interviews, and the administrative records data analysis were used to guide policy development and were incorporated into training curricula. The project enhanced existing training and developed new training for youth in foster care, community partners, social services and education staff, and foster and kinship care providers. Training topics focused on promoting educational success and how to effectively guide and support youth in transition, including youth participation in CFTs and resources available to youth. The training was delivered by trainers experienced in delivering child welfare services, who also partnered with a youth partner trainer who had experienced out-of-home care. According to project staff, the cotraining approach assisted training participants in understanding the impact of trauma, encouraged a focus on factors promoting youth success, and modeled youth-agency partnership. As part of the project evaluation process, a template was developed for securing feedback from training participants. The input from participants was used to improve the curricula.

The infrastructure developed by Fostering YES allowed Cumberland County Social Services to move away from a paper-based system and establish a comprehensive electronic record system for children in foster care. An electronic record system makes data more readily available for policy development and consolidates different forms, helping workers and supervisors by making record searches and updates easier. Staff can now create and/or search child records, update foster care placements and removals, and enter CFT documentation.

Although the grant period ended February 28, 2013, the community partners and the Center made plans to continue the work of Fostering YES, including, but not limited to the following:

  • The training enhanced and developed by/for Fostering YES will continue to be offered and presented by the Center using the cotraining model.
  • The analysis of youth in foster care data from Cumberland County will continue and be used to assist the county and State in policy development.
  • The learning from Fostering YES supported a Youth Leadership Café to ascertain ways of promoting the leadership of youth in care.

Fostering YES disseminated information about the project through news releases and websites (http://www.cfface.org/projects/youth_leadership/Fostering_Yes/), community and campus presentations, and through State, national, and international conference venues. Project staff had the opportunity to present project processes and findings to State-level groups, such as the North Carolina Educational Stability Task Force, which was beneficial in developing new policy to improve stability in education for youth in foster care throughout the State. In addition, an upcoming book, International Perspectives and Empirical Findings on Child Participation: From Social Exclusion to Child-Inclusive Policies (Oxford University Press), will include a chapter, "Child and Family Team Meetings and Restorative Justice for Foster Youth," which will discuss the Fostering YES project. The final evaluation report for the project is available here http://www.cfface.org/documents/Fostering_YES_Final_Report_June_2013_edited_v3.pdf.

For more information, please contact Dr. Joan Pennell, Center for Family and Community Engagement, North Carolina State University, C. B. 8622, Raleigh, NC 27695-8622, or via email at jpennell@ncsu.edu.

The Fostering YES project is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award 90CO1075/01). 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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