Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #1: Stable Placement Equals Stable Education

Shay House, 22, an undergraduate at Mills College. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 10 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Shay House, 22, an undergraduate at Mills College.

The Proposal

House’s recommendations are aimed at improving placement stability as a strategy for insuring education stability. She proposes federal investments to build up the availability of evidence-based models for foster parent training, peer support networks for foster parents, and the use of community-based recruitment to keep foster youth near their school of origin.

The Argument

In the past decade, Congress has taken steps to ensure that youth who are removed from their homes and placed into foster care have the right to attend their school of origin, if that’s what they wish. After slow development, states are starting to get in line with that federal decree.

House argues that the best way to ensure a stable academic life is to make sure youth are in foster homes that are close by, with foster parents who are prepared and supported. This lowers the likelihood of two things: school transport issues and placements that fall apart for preventable reasons.

In Their Own Words

“I have been in roughly 45 foster homes, eight group homes and 23 schools … The relentless upheaval did not stop in the foster homes. I not only had to deal with the uncertainty at home, but I also had to deal with the anguish of the unknown at a new school with every move.

“It is likely that foster youth will continue to experience educational instability until we address the root of the problem: placement instability.”

The Chronicle’s Take

The “school of origin” provision in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, later solidified in the Every Student Succeeds Act, is to some extent an acknowledgment that placement stability is a problem. At best, it is a bandage on the wound of placements far from home, or placements that disrupt.

Tools for Transformation, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

So House’s call to better address the central issue of placement quality is a good one, and timely. The Family First Act will soon put pressure on states to rely less on congregate care, and, at least in the short term, that will require more well-trained foster parents.

Her proposals are modest in that they simply call for demonstration grants to test a few central strategies: targeted placement, improved training and peer support.

Certainly, there are some models to build on in each category. Sacramento’s Foster Focus program was built to keep foster youth in their zip code or close by. The Children Need Amazing Parents (CHAMPS) initiative, which has been championing the need for better training, could be a willing partner. And House cites the Mockingbird Family Model out of Washington as an innovator in foster parent support.

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