To see that foster children in Montgomery County have the support they need, in 2013 the school system and the county government are pulling in some outside help.
Montgomery County Public Schools will work with Child Welfare Services and Seattle-based Casey Family Programs, a foundation that provides consulting and training in welfare services, to see that educational outcomes for students in foster care improve, said Ursula Hermann, director of student services for MCPS.
Studies conducted nationwide in the last decade found that foster students fail to do as well as their peers in state reading and math tests, are more likely to repeat a grade, and are less likely to graduate high school, according to a July 2011 report from the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, a group of 12 national nonprofits.
But, the report stated, if a foster child has a more stable school environment, moves less between schools or is placed in new schools more quickly, he or she is more likely to succeed.
Of the 460 children from Montgomery County in foster care either inside or outside of the county, about 60 percent go to county public schools, said Agnes Leshner, director of Child Welfare Services.
Tracking the students’ performance is difficult because laws do not allow private information to be shared, Leshner said. There may be more ways to share the data, though, and the partnership could help determine options, she said.
Both the county and the school system provide services to the students, but the approach could be more organized, said Paul DiLorenzo, senior director at Casey Family Programs.
The foundation has committed to provide consulting and training to help the school system and the county coordinate services at least for the year, DiLorenzo said.
The in-kind services may total over $25,000, he said.
While the outcomes for students in foster care are discouraging, when a county understands the needs of the students, it helps them succeed, DiLorenzo said.
Casey is providing its services free of charge, including training for a group of about 30 central office employees as part of a program called Endless Dreams. The program aims to increase educational performances of foster students by explaining to the school system the students’ needs and services that help, Hermann said.
“This is a consciousness training,” DiLorenzo said. “We use it to help educators understand the unique needs of students in foster care.”
Those employees will then train the school system’s school-based employees, such as teachers and counselors, she said.
The school system also will establish a contact for each school who can translate needs of foster care students at the school to Child Welfare Services, Leshner said.
“The important thing is that the school system is on board,” Leshner said. “We all want to improve the academic performance of students in foster care.”
The partnership is expanding at the same time that a new law, passed in 2008, is requiring school districts nationwide to expand services to students in foster care, she said.
Under the law, districts are required to see that foster care students are adequately and quickly placed in schools. If a child moves placement, as foster children often do, he or she will not necessarily move schools, Leshner said; meetings will be held to decide what placement is best. School districts also are required to bus the child to the chosen school.
Hermann said she is excited about the new advancements.
“If you can imagine what it is like to be a child placed in foster care, you can imagine the type of anxieties that accompany their placement,” Hermann said. “Whatever we can do to make sure they are stable and cared for, we will do.”