Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #6: Requiring Educational-Vocational Specialists

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 12 former foster youths who completed congressional internships. The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a carefully researched policy recommendation during their time in Washington. Today we highlight the recommendation of Angelique Salizan, 23, a graduate of Binghamton University in New York.

The Proposal

Require states to designate one educational-vocational specialist (EVS) in each child welfare agency in order to qualify for reimbursement under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. The EVS would be responsible for assessing the individual challenges for any student in foster care, and connecting them with any resources or assistance that can help in the pursuit of employment or college.

The Argument

Salizan, as a foster youth in New York City, received academic assistance through the renowned nonprofit Good Shepherd Services. She credits her Good Shepherd educational-vocational specialist, Elise Gelbman, as the person who made a difference in her academic advancement.

Salizan contrasts her own success against the dismal statistical outcomes for youth in foster care. There are 250,000 school-aged kids in foster care, she reports, and only half will complete high school. Only 3 percent will obtain a bachelor’s degree.

A key contributor, she argues, is that caseworkers are often too overburdened with other things to make academics and job preparation a priority for kids on their caseload. It creates a chasm for youth in care: the agency knows little about their academics, and schools don’t know enough about their life.

Clearly for Salizan, Gelbman served as the connective tissue between school and system, and it made all the difference.

In Her Own Words

Angelique Salizan

“[Gelbman] assisted me through my academic career from middle school throughout college completion. Ms. Gelbman was the one source of stability I had throughout my education.

Because Ms. Gelbman advocated on my behalf, the school district, counselors and teachers were well-informed of my situation and in constant communication with each other. The district was able to cater to my academic and emotional needs during major life events, such as both of my parents passing away while I was in high school. Ms. Gelbman was responsible for collecting my attendance, progress reports and test scores while communicating with my guidance counselors and assisting me through college. These collaborative efforts were vital to my academic success.”

The Chronicle’s Take

Salizan also recommended making this a requirement of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, but that’s duplicative if this were to be tied to IV-E funding. If Congress were to make an EVS specialist a mandate in order to get any IV-E reimbursement, that would certainly force it into existence.

Some thoughts regarding how to structure an EVS mandate:

1) Some states have way more control of child welfare services than others. In states like New York, Pennsylvania and California, counties really run the show. So it might work better to directly require an EVS in any single agency that seeks IV-E reimbursement. Otherwise, you might run into a situation where New York’s IV-E reimbursement is in jeopardy because five of the 62 counties don’t have an EVS.

2) On the flipside, there are states where only one agency exists; the state agency, operating regional outposts. Having one EVS in the state capital wouldn’t do much. So for states using this framework — Florida comes to mind — there would need to be a requirement about regional EVS assignments.

3) The one-per-agency approach would likely work for most places in the country. But to ensure something comparable to Salizan’s experience, there would need to be some numerical thresholds that triggered hiring more than one EVS. As in: one EVS specialist for every 500 youth in care.

The obvious example is Los Angeles, which is a single child welfare agency that is home to 28,000 youth in care. Having one EVS specialist there would be a thin margin better than having none.

4) It seems fair that the cost of the EVS specialists be reimbursable under IV-E, since their presence would be required to obtain the funding.

While the structure of a federal requirement would be complex, it is a fantastic concept to replicate. One of Good Shepherd’s signature contributions to the field of youth services has been the idea of a nonprofit filling the role of vigilant connector between at-risk youth and the classroom. It is a role that most child welfare agencies and schools never embrace.

Click here to read Williams’ entire proposal and those of her fellow FYI participants.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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