Foster Ed, an education-focused initiative of the National Center for Youth Law, will burnish its credentials as a statewide leader in advocacy for the education of foster youth when Jacqueline Thu-Huong Wong takes the helm of its California branch on July 1.
Wong, a school social worker by training, was most recently Principal Consultant under the Senate Policy Unit, for Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Calif.). Before that she led the Foster Youth Services program for the California Department of Education.
Under her six-year tenure, the program became widely renowned among a small but growing cadre of advocates who have worked to improve educational outcomes for foster youth. In addition to these official roles, Wong has been a commissioner for the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Foster Care since 2007 and has recently been appointed by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye to the steering committee for her Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court Initiative aimed at addressing school-to-prison-pipeline issues.
“I feel like I was born into social work,” Wong said of her qualifications for the position. “I am a refugee baby who grew up with various life experiences and in some ways am a survivor of system failures.”
During the tumultuous days preceding Governor Jerry Brown’s historic overhaul of funding to California’s public education system, Wong used her role in the Senate President’s office to fight alongside the Senate President and others to ensure students in foster care weren’t forgotten. In her new role, she will play a critical role in ensuring that California’s 1,000-plus school districts use the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) to direct services to students in foster care.
“There’s this presumption among some school administrators that there are educational support services automatically provided to foster youth through social services,” said Wong. “But that’s not the case. I’m hopeful that as I become part of the Foster Ed team that I’m able to help them better understand the role they play with social services and to provide strategic guidance to districts on how to best work with students in foster care.”
Foster Ed provides technical assistance and training on foster youth education issues in California, Indiana and Arizona, and is overseen by founder Jesse Hahnel.
Over the past six months, Foster Ed has participated in the Coalition for Educational Equity for Foster Youth, which has drafted a model LCFF accountability plan for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as well as other districts around the state. LAUSD released its accountability plan to the public on June 10.
Wong was born en route to freedom the day after the fall of Saigon in 1975, at an Army base in Guam. She and her family were relocated to Ohio and then Stockton, Calif., where she grew up.
“No matter where my career took me, my passion always led me back to this specific body of work in supporting, advocating and empowering young people in foster care to achieve,” Wong said. “Despite the other challenges of being in foster care, education [is] the one thing that a young person could hold onto that could secure them a more positive future.”
Christie Renick is the Southern California Coordinator for Fostering Media Connections.