When children are placed in foster care, it often means a disruption in their education, as well as a change in living situation – which can hurt their educational performance. Now NC State researchers are using a federal grant to launch a project designed to improve educational stability for foster children nationally and boost their overall chances of success.
The project, Fostering Youth Educational Stability (FosteringYES), is funded by a grant from the U.S. Children’s Bureau and is focusing on educational stability for foster children because these children often struggle in the school system and are facing upheaval in other parts of their lives. The grant is for approximately $250,000 over 17 months.
As part of the project, researchers will be working with groups in Cumberland County, N.C., including social services, public schools, the court system, mental health services and community nonprofit organizations. FosteringYES is a joint endeavor of NC State’s Center for Family and Community Engagement and Department of Social Work.
“Currently, in Cumberland County as in most communities, there can be administrative delays in admitting a child to a new school when that child enters foster care. We’re hoping to devise ways of overcoming these administrative hurdles,” says Dr. Joan Pennell, a professor of social work and center director at NC State and principal investigator for FosteringYES.
“Ideally, children can be kept in the same school, to minimize disruption in their lives,” says Dr. Jodi Hall, a clinical assistant professor of social work at NC State and co-principal investigator on the project. “But moving to a new home can mean moving to a new school. If that happens, we need to make sure that important information about these children travels with them – so that new teachers and school administrators are aware of educational progress and any other relevant information that could contribute to academic and social success.”
But the project hopes to do more than ensure children are enrolled in schools promptly. “Getting a good education, and maintaining a child’s social network, are important parts of helping children become successful adults,” Pennell says. “To that end, we’re also hoping to increase the use of child and family teams (CFTs) in Cumberland County schools.” The CFT concept utilizes teams made up of youth and their families, teachers, social workers, pastors or other community members to develop a plan for helping a child succeed both in school and in the broader community.
The FosteringYES team will conduct interviews with foster youth, families, social workers, school personnel, and other involved parties in Cumberland County to identify existing barriers to educational stability, as well as potential solutions. This research will help in crafting plans to help individual children involved with the project.
However, this research will also inform the development of new policies and procedures designed to support a stable and continuous education and support system for foster children. “We’re hoping to create a blueprint that can be used throughout North Carolina and nationally,” Pennell says.
Researchers also plan to use information collected through this project to develop modules that focus on improving stability and academic performance for foster children. These materials could be used in academic classrooms or in training workshops for social workers, teachers, youth groups and others involved in child education, welfare and mental health. “This should have real value for students and professionals – as well as the children themselves,” Pennell says.
One reason the project is taking place in Cumberland County is because the county has a large military population – and approximately one-third of students in the school system are part of military-connected families. These families can be subject to high stress, particularly during times of deployment. In some instances, all of a family’s caregivers can be deployed simultaneously. And military families have often moved repeatedly as parents are assigned to different bases. “All of these things mean that the issue of school stability is particularly important to Cumberland County,” Pennell says.