WATSONVILLE -- Children in foster care are more likely to miss school, to struggle academically and to drop out before finishing the 12th grade. Less than 3 percent make it to a four-year college.
Once out of school, more than a quarter are homeless at some point. About the same number end up in jail. A third receive public assistance, and more than half find themselves without a job.
The key to reversing those dismal statistics is to do more to help foster kids succeed in school, say advocates who announced the Santa Cruz County launch of FosterEd, a program that aims to do just that. The pilot project will enlist specially trained "educational champions" to help keep foster kids on track academically.
Foster children experience trauma as they are separated from family, and moved from home to home, school to school, said Rachel Velcoff Hults, project manager for FosterEd.
"They don't have someone playing the role of parent," she said. "They don't have a stable person in their life."
FosterEd will work with parents when reunification seems possible, or with another adult able to make a long-term commitment to the child if not. The project is seeking volunteers.
The program is an initiative of the National Center for Youth Law. The nonprofit also is piloting the program in Indiana and Arizona. For its launch in California, Santa Cruz County was chosen, in part, because of the partnerships already in place, Hults said.
"It's an incredible strength of our community and county," said Judy Yokel, director of county Family and Children Services.
Yokel's division is part of the FosterEd partnership, which also includes the county Office of Education, the courts, Cabrillo College, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, CASA of Santa Cruz County and The Parent Center.
She said of the 250 children in foster care in the county, 54 percent are placed with relatives, 36 percent in foster homes and 10 percent in group homes.
"Who wouldn't want to be a champion," said Superior Court Judge Denine Guy, who oversees family law cases and knows only too well the educational barriers faced by students in foster care.
Another important aspect of the program that is software that will connect schools to social service agencies to ensure foster children don't slip through the cracks, said Superior Court Judge Denine Guy, who presides over family law cases. Before, getting information relied on making personal connections with teachers, a system that isn't always reliable, she said.
More than $1.7 million in funding from foundations and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is supporting the project.
"This can become a model for the rest of the nation," said Michael Watkins, county schools superintendent. "Yes, we can serve foster youth adequately."
Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Provides foster children with academic advocates
WHY: To reduce educational barriers and failure
WHEN: Phased implementation February, full implementation by August
WHERE: Santa Cruz County pilot site for California
VOLUNTEER: firstname.lastname@example.org or 831-763-8997