NYC college students in foster care want extra assist, advocates say

Three dozen advocacy groups and children’s charities are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to pump $ 6.5 million into support and services for students in foster care by the next school year.

The organizations want two things: a new office within the education department to create guidelines and support the nearly 5,900 city students in foster care, and guaranteed care for students in foster care who need them.

“This group – we absolutely mustn’t waste another minute,” said Brenda Triplett, director of education at Children’s Aid, one of more than two dozen city institutions that place children in nursing homes. “We have to recognize that they are there and recognize the needs.”

In a letter sent to Mayor and School Chancellor Meisha Porter on Tuesday, the groups argue that these students, who make up 1% of all students and are among the weakest, need new investment as they face large differences in the classroom are. Only 42% of students in foster care graduated in the final year of school – the lowest of any student subgroup – while 79% of their unsupported peers received diplomas, state data shows. A 2018 city report found that a fifth of students in foster care had to repeat a grade in 2015, compared with just 6% of students across the city.

They ask city officials to include these requests in the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1st. Similar requests from more than 20 advocacy groups and legal groups last year were unsuccessful.

City hall and city council are negotiating the mayor’s draft budget, which does not provide for specific new support for students in foster care. De Blasio plans to increase Education Department spending by more than $ 2 billion, including more money for individual schools and a vague $ 500 million program to help students catch up academically.

Once a child is in a foster home, schools often do not know who to invite to parent-teacher conferences, who can make special educational decisions, or “whether the school can share information with the student’s parents or the foster home.” said the letter. The organizations estimate that $ 1.5 million could be set up in a new, seven-person office – two people at the central level with a focus on politics and one person in each district to be the point of contact for each school – to support the students and their students Providing additional support and answering questions to families, but also supports the school staff and offers training courses or workshops on how to help these students.

In 2018, a city task force recommended that the Department of Education explore ways to create a team of district-based staff that schools can draw on on a case-by-case basis and for professional development.

Ministry officials said there are staff at all levels of the Ministry of Education who, as part of their regular duties, support students in foster care and act as liaisons for child protection agencies. This includes contact persons at every school and head of the student services in every district. The letter states that these employees are juggling multiple responsibilities.

Erika Palmer, an attorney at Advocates for Children who focuses on foster families, said these liaison officers were existing school staff, such as an assistant principal. She has heard of school contacts who are proactively reaching out to families and agencies, while other schools have contacts who do not know they are that particular point of contact.

Prior to that school year, Triplet’s agency called the foster families of approximately 450 children to tell them that the birth parents – not the foster parents – have the right to decide whether their children should participate in hybrid learning unless their rights are given by terminated a court. They found that some schools were unaware of this, while many birth parents did not know there was an online survey. (The Agency and the Administration for Children’s Services would step in to mediate if there was a conflict between the wishes of the foster parents and the birth parents.)

“If there was an office, it would have been thought through in advance,” said Triplett.

The letter also called for $ 5 million to ensure that children who do not have a fine get it. The organizations argue that transportation will be crucial in getting these students to school over the next year, as many of them will be returning to a school building for the first time since March 2020.

Foster care students may need to move to homes far from their school, but federal and state laws require the counties to provide transportation to their home school. All foster students are eligible for free transportation, but the education department only guarantees bus travel to students whose individualized educational programs – designed for students with disabilities – require transportation, the letter said. The department allows other students to apply for Busing, but the letter argues that the processing of the inquiries sometimes takes weeks or months, “which puts a huge strain on the already fragile care places and the overwhelmed temporary staff in the meantime”.

Sometimes these requests are denied and these students are given MetroCards instead. But the subway alone may not be a viable option for very young students, Triplett said. Palmer estimates that between 300 and 400 of these students will need a bus ride that they have not yet received.

Sometimes foster parents can’t pick up and drop off their children or take them on the train, so the officers will do this, she said.

“These students are abruptly transferred into an unfamiliar environment with new teachers, peers, and curricula, all while coping with the trauma of being separated from their families and communities,” the letter said. “Without guaranteed transportation, foster homes struggled to find homes for some children and had to move other children from one home to another.”

Nathaniel Styer, spokesman for the education department, referred to the various employees, whose responsibilities also include students in foster families.

“We very much appreciate Advocates for Children for their advocacy on behalf of this student population and will review this proposal and continue to support our students in the foster family,” Styer said in a statement.

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