Guest Post by Steve Alschuler
When The Foundling launched its charter school, Haven Academy, more than a decade ago, it marked the beginning of an effort to understand the educational needs of children in foster care and to develop measurable, replicable strategies for meeting those needs. Simply put, ensuring the future well-being of these children must include providing them with an adequate education.
The Foundling’s education conference on November 19 – “Safeguarding Their Futures” – further placed the education of children in the child welfare system front and center. For a full day, experts from around the country convened to describe their own efforts and to share information about effective programs and research from New York and around the United States.
Made possible with support from the Conrad Hilton Foundation, this may have been the first conference of its kind, and we hope it’s not the last. Collaborating and brainstorming with other professionals, reviewing data and learning about effective programs, is essential if we are to raise education on the agenda throughout our child welfare system.
ACS Commissioner David Hansell kicked off the event and set the tone right from the outset. “Education,” he said, “is central to everything we do at ACS.”
We heard about several promising new programs from Jess Dannhauser, President and CEO or Graham Windham; Julie Farber, Deputy Commissioner of ACS; and our own Jessica Nauiokas, Head of School at Haven Academy. Janis Avery, CEO of Seattle-based nonprofit Treehouse, described her organization’s goal of raising graduation rates among children in foster care to match those of the general population.
Jennifer Pokempner, Senior Attorney for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, described the current state of federal law. And we heard a fascinating presentation of research findings from a panel that included Mark Courtney of the University of Chicago, Vanessa Xiemenes Barrat of WestEd, Amy Dworsky of Chapin Hall, and Maryanne Schretzman of the NYC Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence.
Those of you who are familiar with The Foundling’s work in this area may already know how our educational programming has grown beyond Haven Academy, providing coaches to high school students and partnering with ACS and CUNY on The Dorm Project, supporting the education and life needs of youth from the foster care system as they attend college on CUNY campuses. These programs have proven extremely effective – putting many kids on a trajectory toward a successful life.
Still, these programs are small compared to the overall population. Most children in the child welfare system are attending public schools that, through no fault of their own, are ill-equipped to deal with their unique challenges. Only 9% of foster youth in middle school in New York City are proficient in math. Only 25% graduate from high school on time. Many change schools multiple times over the course of a school year as their addresses change.
Clearly, there is much to be done and many challenges ahead. All of us must keep this conversation going, continue supporting and conducting research, sharing information and collaborating with each other. This conference was an important milestone and we are proud to have been part of it.
Interested in learning more? View the full video of the conference below:
Read more about our Education Programs here.