Supreme Court forms education committee to help Texas foster kids see better educational stability and outcomes
From kindergarten to high school, foster kids drag the bottom of education success measures, reports show, and experts agree that frequent school changes account partly for foster children's lower average test scores and graduation rates compared to the general student population. In its May 2010 order, the Supreme Court of Texas directed the Children's Commission to form an education committee to improve the education stability and experience of Texas foster children while bringing more attention to the universal problem. Education Committee members have until March 2012 to study the system, identify problems, and recommend solutions in a report to the Supreme Court.
Chaired by Judge Patricia Macias of El Paso's 388th District Court, the Education Committee includes high-level decision-makers from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and the Texas Education Agency (TEA), as well as judges, attorneys, a former foster youth, education experts and representatives of child-welfare groups.
With its four active sub-committees and multidisciplinary composition, the committee mirrors the collaborative philosophy and structure of the Children's Commission that has proven so valuable, Judge Macias said. "What has impressed me is the quality of exchange between all the different systems – representatives are able to sit down and talk about issues from each respective position."
With safety and permanency for foster youth having taken center stage for the last decade or so, committee member Judge Rob Hofmann, Associate Judge of the Child Protection Court of the Hill Country, says he's glad to see some focus on children's well being. "Education is everyone's ticket to the future," Judge Hofmann said. "But with only 2 percent of our foster kids graduating from college and a high percentage dropping out of high school, what kind of future are we preparing them for?"
Foster children also deserve a full school experience with extracurricular activities just like other students, Judge Macias said. "Sometimes we forget that it's also important to be in a band or play school sports," she added. "But their frequent moves can make that difficult or impossible."
Judge Macias is undaunted by the challenge of removing or overcoming systemic barriers to a consistent, quality education experience for foster children. "This is very doable," Judge Macias said. "We may have big goals, but they're clear cut and we agree on our guiding principles. Most importantly, we're bringing together people who would not normally have this opportunity to work on these issues, and we're raising awareness across the board."
"It's going to happen. It's going to work," she added. We are going to make it work."
Children's Commission group chips away at barriers to school success
that Texas foster kids face
Foster children as a group compare poorly to the general student population in school achievement and graduation and drop-out rates, mostly because they often have a chaotic educational experience before being removed from their homes and they confront obstacles that may multiply the moment they enter foster care.
In Texas, for example, a number of abused and neglected children move to foster homes outside of their home and school community, sometimes hundreds of miles away. And all too often it's the first of multiple moves and school changes while in foster care that hinder educational success.
The Supreme Court of Texas last May set another milestone in court improvement and high-level collaboration when it created the Children's Commission Education Committee. Chaired by Judge Patricia Macias of El Paso's 388th District Court, the 13-member committee includes representatives at the highest levels of education and child welfare, including the Commissioners of the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
The Court gave the Education Committee a little less than two years to create an action plan for improving education outcomes for Texas foster children. The Education Committee created four subcommittees to carry out its work and which include approximately 100 members from court, education, and child welfare stakeholders across the state:
- School readiness
- School stability and transitions
- School experience, supports, and advocacy
- Post-secondary education
Having completed nearly a year's worth of fact-finding, research and an interim report, the Education Committee this September convened in Austin with its four subcommittees and multiple workgroups in person to review and prioritize their findings on:
- Challenges to education success.
- Existing resources that could be used to face those challenges.
- Current federal and state law, policy, and practice.
- Data and information sharing.
- Multi-disciplinary training.
- Judicial practices.
Some 75 professionals from education, child welfare, law and the judiciary discussed and debated what should be included in the Committee's March 2012 report to the Supreme Court.
Judge Macias described the meeting as a significant benchmark in the Committee's strategic plan and logic model. "It marked the transition from information sharing and barriers identification to cooperation, coordination, shared decision-making, multi-system training, and trusted collaboration," Judge Macias said. "We are merging efforts and thinking at the highest policy and decision-making levels.
Tiffany Roper, Assistant Director of the Children's Commission who staffs the committee, summarized/highlighted their progress to date, "Every time the Education Committee or one of its sub-committees or workgroup meets, we raise awareness of the need to collaboratively improve educational outcomes of children and youth in foster care. The exchange of information and the relationship building between child welfare, education, and the courts has been phenomenal."