Coming Together to Close the Gap for Students in Foster Care

By Desiree Lindsay, Treehouse Public Relations Coordinator

It’s been one full year since the majority of our students have met their teachers face-to-face without the aid of a technology like Zoom. Washington state school districts are accelerating preparations in order to meet Gov. Jay Inslee’s deadline of April 19 to offer all K-12 students the option to attend school in a hybrid (in-person combined with remote learning) environment.

We have been working with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and school districts across the state, advocating on behalf of our youth on how they can best support this transition and narrow the gap that has widened for youth in foster care during the pandemic.

“A lot of people may not realize this, but students who experience foster care face the worst educational outcomes out of any other student group due to trauma, loss and numerous placement and school transitions. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Dawn Rains, Treehouse Chief Policy and Strategy Officer.

Disengagement from school and increased mental health struggles have been a concern for students nationwide, but as a couple of Treehouse surveys have shown, it has been even worse for youth in foster care.

Significant emphasis will need to be put on providing wrap-around supports to encourage re-engagement in school, minimize mental and behavioral health challenges, and develop unique educational plans for those who need it most.

“We’re at a critical juncture. As schools start to reopen, we need to make sure we’re identifying and supporting those students who are furthest from educational equity. We have a special responsibility to youth in foster care, the youth for whom the State has become parent,” Dawn said.

She added, “coming together as a community to support youth and their caregivers and educational staff can help mitigate challenges as we prepare to navigate yet another upheaval in our daily routines.”

If you’re a part of your school community, here’s how you can help close the gap for the roughly 8,900 K-12 students in foster care across Washington state:

Check-in to see if the students in your school district have their basic needs met. The Treehouse Store and Just-In-Time-Funding are great programs aimed to meet the essential needs of youth in care across the state. Visit treehouseforkids.org/jitf to learn more.

Support behavioral and emotional well-being efforts within your school district. Check out available resources available through OSPI at https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/health-safety/mental-social-behavioral-health.

Make sure your district is offering tutoring and/or other academic remediation support. Through temporary CARES Act funding, Treehouse is providing funding for tutoring and academic remediation aimed at addressing learning loss for children and youth in foster care statewide. To learn more or to submit a referral, visit: treehouseforkids.org/cares

Call upon your school district to deploy federal emergency relief funds to meet the needs of those furthest from educational equity. Federal emergency relief funds can be used to increase capacity for foster care liaisons, hire temporary staff, provide compensatory special education services, and fund contracts with community-based providers.

Investing in these types of wrap-around supports can help to re-engage students, assess learning loss, provide academic acceleration services, and meet individualized education needs and much more.

Ultimately, we need to come together to provide individualized interventions and encouragement for all of our students as they integrate back into an in-person school setting, so they can focus on finishing the school year strong.

To learn more about how to get involved, visit: treehouseforkids.org/take-action

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About the Author

Desiree Lindsay is the Public Relations Coordinator at Treehouse, where she elevates the voices and experiences of the youth we serve.

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