Wednesday, Aug 23, 2017
Earlier this year, I wrote to you with an update about the challenges facing the child welfare system but also full of hope about new possibilities and opportunities for our children. I pledged then to "do more than ever before to make it right for our children in care" and I'm proud of the progress we have made towards that end. This year has been a year of capacity building for the Foundation-as we continue to stretch to meet the needs of our GAL volunteers and the children they serve.
As a part of that commitment to "do more than ever to make it right for our children in care" the Board committed much of the strategic plan this year to enhancing educational outcomes for our youth and ensuring they have the skills and resources they need for long term success. We know children with a Guardian ad Litem volunteer do better in school, have less placement disruption, and score better on nine protective factors but the Board thought deeply about what would provide long term impacts for our youth long after they leave care and one answer became clear-enhancing educational outcomes would have lifelong impact.
Many of you may already know the dismal outcomes associated with our children and educational success but how many of you have seen the shame or frustration on a child's face as they struggle to understand material but have gotten further and further behind? Just the other day, my own daughter (adopted from foster care at age 18 and is currently 20) was struggling with an educational decision. I asked what her gut would tell her to do. Her reply was heartbreaking-while she didn't know what to do-she knew how angry she was that she missed so much educationally during her 15 years in care, stating "I wanted to be raised where I would like reading, know my grammar, and know how to study." Raymond James Financial has generously supported our "Write Start" Program year after year to ensure children have the materials they need to succeed and this year we are proud to announce a number of expanded services to meet the educational needs children and their Guardian ad Litem volunteers have identified:
Educational Children's Needs Requests
Guardian ad Litem volunteers, with the support of their Child Advocacy Manager, can request educational support at any time during the year using the Children's Needs Request Form. Requests for tutoring are supported in 6 week increments and can be renewed as many times as needed with progression information from the tutor. Other types of educational requests include: ACT/SAT prep fees, graduation fees, laptops needed for homework, books, or other items such as graphing calculators. To see a sample of the questions you will be asked to submit a request, visit here. Your Child Advocacy Manager has access to the form and will submit online with information you provide. Special thanks to Wells Fargo and Raymond James Financial for supporting our educational needs throughout the year.
Life Skills 101
Providing backpacks and school supplies helps our children start the year off “write” but we are working to provide skill development year round that will serve them for a lifetime. Through strategic partnerships, we are providing a variety of workshops to meet the needs youth have identified including: financial literacy with Regions Bank and Wells Fargo, It’s My Future and Career Success with Junior Achievement, Cooking Matters (to help youth learn how to shop healthy on a budget and prepare meals), and Study Skills and Time Management. We piloted these programs this Spring and Summer and will offer additional sessions in both Counties in 2018 as well.
Learn to Earn
Learn to Earn encourages younger youth to set and obtain educational goals by providing rewards that teach the importance of delayed gratification. Goal setting and delayed gratification are important personal traits found in successful individuals. Youth in foster care struggle with delayed gratification because often times in their childhood, parents and other caregivers made promises that went unfulfilled. In partnership with their Guardian ad Litem volunteer, youth set an individualized 9 week goal based on their unique situation--the goal setting form can be found online here and must be filled out at the beginning of the goal setting period. Youth may choose to work on improving attendance, improving their GPA, or improving their behavior. The Guardian will work with them on their goal for the specified period of time and then can complete a short form to receive either a gift card reward or an experiential reward.
Merle Allshouse Scholar Program
Even our youth who graduate from high school and are eligible for Postsecondary Education Services and Support (PESS) are falling behind. Over the last year, we began hearing anecdotal stories from youth we have served (and the GALs that supported them) that systems were changing and the organizations charged with helping meet their needs were not easy to navigate. We began researching the issue and noticed that previous gains that had been made were slipping. For example, in April 2016, 95.7% of all youth 18-22 that had aged out of care were either pursuing a GED, adult education, vocational school, or some form of postsecondary education. Today, that percentage is 90.1%. Additionally, 32.7% of youth 18-22 were employed and currently only 29.9% are employed. Studies show many former foster youth drop out of secondary education programs for the simple lack of access to computers and a consistent caring adult to help them navigate their educational and career path. We are working to train more Guardian ad Litem volunteers as educational advocates to help young adults navigate this tumultuous path and have expanded our financial supports to meet the needs of youth who have aged out of care.
Merle Allshouse was a committed Guardian ad Litem volunteer with a lifelong passion for learning and a fervent champion of accessible learning and the underserved. Merle passed away in the Spring of 2016 and his family wanted to honor his passion for education and service to the Guardian ad Litem Program by creating an educational fund to support youth in care. Starting in 2018, we will award an annual scholarship award(s) for continued education for youth who are pursuing post-secondary education. More information and the application will be posted in January 2018 for a spring award date. Additionally, we have established a flex funding account for youth who have aged out of care but have additional educational needs-whether that need is tutoring, a computer, or other supports to help ensure they are successful in school. Guardian ad Litem volunteers who are still in touch with youth post 18 can submit a Children's Needs request form with their Child Advocacy Manager to make requests at any time during the year, even if they have discharged off the young adult's case. Any questions can also be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our hope is that these expanded services not only change the life of one of the children in the dependency system but has a lasting impact that changes the future of our entire community. 100% of the children in care had hopes & dreams before coming into the dependency system and together we can help them achieve their hopes & dreams by providing the resources they need to succeed.