Having dreams to achieve personal goals is one of the greatest motivators to success. Education provides a clear advantage to reaching ones goals and opening doors to opportunities that would otherwise be closed.
Children who have been removed from their home into a foster home or home of a relative caregiver have experienced disruption to some degree which may place them at risk of having difficulty in school or possibly not graduating. These children struggle at times when they are moved around from school to school, which contributes to falling behind academically. The lack of stability and parent or other adult involvement their education causes these kids to fall behind or not have special education needs met. Keeping children interested, and hopefully excited about learning, contributes greatly to their progression and educational advancement. Focusing on dropout prevention in middle school is paramount when peer pressure rises, children assume more responsibility for their education, parental involvement decreases, and curriculum becomes increasingly challenging.
Developing Resources and Educational Advocacy for Motivated Students (DREAMS Project)
In 2010, Kids Central developed a program to focus on educational outcomes for youth in out-of-home care. Former school system employees were hired as Educational Liaisons and worked on cases brought to their attention by case managers. The focus of the Educational Liaisons were to be proactive to the educational needs of the child, ensure proper placement, transfer, and enrollment in school and identify necessary support to assist with advancement, and work to prevent issues before they occur.
In 2011, Kids Central applied for and received a federal grant which was a 17 month research project to increase educational outcomes of youth. Kids Central’s DREAMS Project was 1 out of 10 projects funded by the Administration for Children and Families. The DREAMS project provided a collaborative approach for foster children from ages 10-13 in Marion and Citrus Counties to identify unmet needs affecting school performance. Educational Liaisons assumed the role to manage and review all aspects around the child’s academic success on a monthly basis for 120 youth in the research project.
The federal grant ended in April of 2013 and as a result, Kids Central has restructured its education program to model with the DREAMS project. The DREAMS project continues to identify unmet needs affecting school performance in foster children located in the counties we serve. Through data exchange and intensive collaboration, professionals and caretakers become knowledgeable and connected to all academic, medical and mental health service provisions to drive the students’ academic success.
Improving Educational Outcomes
Our efforts to improve educational outcomes for youth in foster care include:
1) Creation of specific policies, procedures and protocols to address barriers to confidentiality and ensure appropriate services are provided to students in foster care;
2) Implementation of a web-based data extraction and reporting system to facilitate information sharing;
3) On-site Educational Liaisons in the targeted school districts;
4) Designation of a point person from each school to serve as the primary contact and advocate for students in foster care;
5) Provision of comprehensive training and education to stakeholders;
6) Improved coordination and provision of necessary educational and support services to children and families; and
7) Enhanced engagement and involvement of parents and caregivers in the educational process.
Kids Central holds and facilitates a School Advisory Meeting with stakeholders on a quarterly basis during the school year. Representatives from each of the five school districts attend these meetings to work on barriers between the school system and child welfare.
Each of the school districts assigns a guidance counselor or school social worker to work closely with Kids Central staff for each youth in out-of-home care to monitor the youth’s progress, address issues, and strive for optimal outcomes.
Kids Central has created tools and a manual for caretakers, foster parents, case managers, Guardian Ad Litems, and the legal system. The brochure, Helping Our Kids Succeed in School, was created by Kids Central for anyone caring for a child attending school. The brochure provides information on each school district. When the K-12 education report card was implemented in July of 2012, education staff put together an intervention manual on each of the 9 domains of the K-12 Education Report Card. The interventions are divided into three categories, Pro-Active, Active and Re-active. All categories are appropriate for all students ages 5-17 who are enrolled in school. Kids Central is working on a statewide intervention manual to share with all child welfare agencies in the State of Florida.
Michelle Mongeluzzo, Director of Prevention Services
Debra Wise-Velez, Deputy Chief of Prevention Services
Debbie Winters, Educational Liaison