Blazing a Path to Graduation

In tandem with the essential support services Treehouse provides to thousands of foster children each year, our educational support program, Graduation Success will ensure that students in foster care in King County graduate at the same rate as their peers with a plan for their future by 2017.

Creating a change in graduation rates of this magnitude means Treehouse will expand from serving 400 youth to reach and successfully support over 800 middle and high school students in 17 school districts by 2017.  We must successfully provide and coordinate a comprehensive suite of individualized services in what amounts to one of the largest education undertakings on behalf of foster children in the United States.  Neither child welfare or school systems can focus on the specialized educational needs of foster children. Treehouse is uniquely placed between these two systems and fiercely committed to better educational outcomes. 


Research, years of practice, and continual evaluation have guided us today to the core program model for Graduation Success, one we call ABC Plus.  This program combines education planning, monitoring, coaching, and support led by a Treehouse Education Specialist. 

ABC Plus summarizes six factors that lead to a successful high school graduation.  The first three are tracked by schools:

A is for regular class attendance

B is for appropriate behavior

C is for adequate course completion

The “Plus” in the Treehouse model refers to additional critical attitude and engagement measures that research and practice have uncovered as critical elements we must also support for foster children’s graduation:

1) meaningful participation in an extra-curricular activity

2) a mindset of persistence and perseverance

3) a student-centered plan for the future.[1]

 If we can ensure each child meets positive indicators in each of these areas—if each child is on track with the “plus” as well as the ABCs of school—then they will succeed.

Treehouse’s Graduation Success model delivers customized interventions and support to help every child succeed in each of these six areas of focus.  Every youth works with a Treehouse Education Specialist, a trained professional who ensures she receives appropriate, timely supports and services tailored to her individual developmental needs.  Education Specialists partner with social workers, caregivers, and an in-school mentor to create a portrait of each youth’s needs. The Specialist gets to know each youth through ongoing, supportive meetings, and together they create a student-centered plan to define her educational needs and aspirational goals.

The Specialist then works with each student and an in-school team to monitor ABC Plus progress weekly and choose appropriate interventions and supports from Treehouse and the community network of services. Formal partnerships with the State and school districts leverage additional support and information-sharing.

Treehouse provides essentials such as free clothing and school supplies, and funding for extra-curricular engagement and additional learning opportunities. We also provide the little things, such as giving every child in foster care a holiday gift to reinforce the positive feeling of being valued, loved, and cared for. In addition to these and other direct supports Treehouse provides, Education Specialists make sure the student gets needed in-school services such as tutoring and counseling. Going further, the Specialist also coordinates other important supports from community partners like the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA.

The Education Specialist is the year-round “quarterback” of this network of support, providing ongoing coaching to foster academic mindset and drive progress towards meeting the goals of the student-centered plan. If the Education Specialist sees that one of the six ABC Plus measures are not on track—perhaps there is prolonged absence from school or poor grades—the Specialist is there with best-practice supports and interventions. A well-timed school meeting involving all the providers and family members in a youth’s life can change the trajectory from failure to success.

In situations where a more emergent need arises – such as a behavior issue that leads to suspension or students need specialized supports at school– Treehouse uses its tested Education Advocacy intervention to prevent or reduce time out of class and keep kids in school. This Treehouse-developed, short-term solution is now included in the California Clearinghouse for Evidence-Based Programs in Child Welfare as a promising practice.

[1]University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (2012).

Impact Measurement

We track a range of key performance indicators on overall capacity, student performance toward graduation, and the impact of each team on the students they serve. 

Our capacity measures include the number of students served by:

  • Graduation Success
  • Statewide Educational Advocacy
  • Enrichment programs (Little Wishes, Wearhouse, Holiday Magic)

Our student performance tracking captures a broad range of measures including:

  • Graduation rates
  • Students “on track to graduate” – they have the grades and course credits to lead them to graduation
  • The six ABC Plus factors

Finally, we track the performance of each Education Specialist and each geographic team. Each week, every student support and intervention that is delivered – there are many possibilities depending on the needs of the student – is recorded. Each month, quarter, and year, each team reviews student and operational data and confers with Treehouse leadership to ensure fidelity of program delivery, adherence to best practices, and positive movement of graduation indicators.