Speaking Up With Educational Advocacy

By Linsey Hunt, Marketing & Communications Intern

One of our goals at Treehouse is to enable youth in foster care to succeed academically. Our Educational Advocates understand the different resources available to youth in school, and can help them speak up to ensure their needs are met. By establishing 504 plans or IEPs, helping youth get connected to the internet for virtual classes and seeking out other appropriate supports, Educational Advocates have helped students navigate the pandemic through the end of this school year.

One of our Educational Advocates began working with Andrew and his foster family in October 2019. Andrew had gone through several placement changes and advocacy referrals prior to the current advocate receiving his referral. He was struggling in school due to his negative behaviors there, and there was tension in the home of the current placement due to Andrew’s behaviors both at home and in school.

Our Educational Advocate connected with his school counselor and teacher. They both described how Andrew had small hiccups at school, but was very capable of functioning academically at the fifth-grade level just like the majority of his peers.

Our advocate also spoke with Andrew’s foster mom about his relevant medical history and they talked about how Andrew could qualify for a 504 Plan, which would document his accommodations and follow him to any future placements/schools. Our Ed Advocate coordinated a meeting with Andrew’s teams inside and outside of school. They discussed Andrew’s barriers in school, what accommodations were already being provided and what accommodations could potentially help Andrew during his school day. The team found Andrew eligible for a 504 Plan and a rough draft was created collaboratively.

The 504 Plan included Andrew being able to take reading breaks as needed to calm down, having access to sensory items and having several seating options. With the old and new accommodations in place and documented, the team quickly began seeing Andrew’s behaviors stabilize in school. Andrew was aware of the accommodations available to him during the day and it was reported that he would often utilize them as methods to ground himself.

One of our Educational Advocates was assigned to work with a first grader who was struggling with remote learning. She coordinated with his social worker, caregivers and school staff to make sure he had the following accommodations: enrollment in his school’s Y-Academy program, transportation to and from that program, one-on-one paraprofessional support to help the youth stay focused on remote learning activities and individualized reading instruction. Our Educational Advocate ensured the adults in this youth’s life are on the same page so they’re collaborating and making sure he has all of those accommodations and more as he gets older and continues his education.

Conner’s social worker referred him to our Educational Advocacy program, as Conner was struggling with the nuances of using his district-issued Chromebook and was missing instructional time. Conner’s caregiver is legally blind and was unable to assist Conner in accessing his course work or troubleshooting his Chromebook problems. Our Ed Advocate reached out to Conner’s social worker and caregiver to see what could be done. It turned out that Conner lived in a “dead spot” with no internet or cell phone signal, so our advocate reached out to the school district’s IT department and they moved a hotspot closer to Conner’s home, giving him reliable connectivity.

Conner’s caregiver now has the necessary tools, including a Braille Chromebook, which she can use to assist Conner with his schoolwork. The caregiver shared this note with our advocate: “I got tired of leaving voicemails, being put on hold and not knowing who to reach out to at the school district. Thank you for helping bridge this for me, and for advocating for my Conner!”

One of our Educational Advocates received a referral for Randy, a 14-year-old youth who had been out of school for 3.5 years. Our advocate found out he had been in special education when he was in school as a fifth grader and was able to request the last evaluation and IEP. She contacted the youth’s new school and talked with them about the services the youth would receive and what grade he would be placed in.

Randy started school at the end of September as a ninth grader, and our advocate asked that a new special education evaluation be expedited. He had a new IEP by the beginning of December, and his school was working closely with his caregivers to give him all the support they could. Randy’s end of quarter grades were 5 A’s and 1 B with his accommodations, services and a really great attitude!

As 2020 began to unfold and youth everywhere were challenged to a new reality, Layla wasn’t an exception. As a senior in high school looking forward to connecting with friends after the summer, things became to look pretty dim because they were not going to return to the school campus anytime soon.

Because a family member in the home has serious health complications putting her at risk for the virus, Layla could not go out to hang with a friend even if she took the precaution of wearing the mask, so things began to take a toll. Layla started to act out, not motivated to do school work, and eventually, school work started to suffer. She had fallen off-track to graduate on time.

A Treehouse Educational Advocate got involved and began to encourage and support both Layla and the caregiver by setting small goals and finding ways to make life a little fun for her to get engaged in school and to bring her grades back up.

Our advocate collaborated with the school counselor to assist Layla in joining some remote school clubs that helped her communicate with other students. Layla signed up with Independent Living and the Treehouse Driver’s Assistance program. Layla has started to learn new skills like filling out applications, learning to advocate for herself and the basics of independent living.

As a result of Layla putting forth effort and connecting her with resources, she is back on track to graduate on time and getting good grades! Plus, she’s decided that she wants to go to college.

A Treehouse Educational Advocate received a referral from social worker to help John with enrollment and reengagement in school. John had been enrolled in a high school program but had moved to different school region to live with extended family. He started skipping school, and eventually he stopped attending during his junior year.

He was now almost 18 years old and wanted to go back to school to get his diploma. However, he was working his dream job as a roofer and didn’t want to quit. Our advocate worked with John on researching educational programs that would accommodate his work schedule but hit a lot of barriers.

Finally, our advocate located a program that was a perfect fit for him: a technical college dual program that offered him the opportunity to take high school completion classes and be enrolled in a hands-on career program. The location was only a few miles from his home.

He was able to keep his job and is now actively engaged in the dual high school completion program! He works a few hours throughout the week but more on the weekends at his roofing job. The program offers a host of support staff to help keep him on track. He is focused on getting his high school completion by the end of the summer 2021.

Jay changed homes four times after residing in the same home for five years as he was transitioning from elementary school to middle school. He was struggling to complete academic work at his grade level and behaviors at school began escalating, so our Educational Advocate wrote a request letter for a special education evaluation. The school staff involved made the decision to complete the evaluation; there were many observations and data which documented struggles and progress.

Our advocate requested meetings to discuss the incidents occurring at school and requested a behavior analysis, which would help to create a successful behavior plan. When the special education evaluation was completed, our advocate attended the results meeting, and it was determined Jay qualified for services.

In addition, Jay was not successful at online learning. The advocate requested if Jay could move to a hybrid model where he was on campus part-time, and the school agreed. Our advocate also requested for some of the online lessons to be recorded for Jay to watch throughout the school day.

The additional services provided on his Individual Education Plan have helped Jay to complete more schoolwork without frustration. His grades and attendance have improved greatly with these accommodations put into place. He also has been more cooperative in his caregiver’s home.

Victor moved back to his current foster home after moving around to multiple foster care placements all while attending multiple schools. With the multiple moves, Victor was not able to get a much-needed individualized education plan (IEP) in place for dyslexia and other health impairment supports. A Treehouse Educational Advocacy referral was put in place by his DCYF social worker and a special education evaluation was requested promptly by his caregiver with the support of his advocate.

Our Educational Advocate connected with his school team to get supports in place to support with remote learning while going through the special education evaluation process. Victor struggled to access an education in the remote setting due to his mental health needs. The advocate was able to get transportation setup for Victor to be to have access with an in-person child placing agency staff member to help guide him with his education.

An IEP was put in place with in-person supports at his local school which greatly supported his educational needs in the best manner possible during this pandemic.

Mary is a fourth grader who moved into her grandfather’s home. Upon receiving a referral for Mary, our Educational Advocate worked with her grandpa to make sure she was enrolled in the new school district and connected to the necessary technology needed for online learning.

With grandpa working full time, the youth attended a child care center during the day and was struggling to complete school work while at the center. Our advocate contacted the youth’s previous school district to collect information on their observations of her academic abilities and what, if any, evaluations had been recommended or completed.

Our advocate also connected the psychologists from Mary’s old and new school districts in order for them to share data and get a special services evaluation scheduled for completion. While waiting for the results of the evaluation, accommodations were also requested from the district, such as noise-cancelling headphones, to better support the youth while attending school online at the center.

The new district completed the special services evaluation and Mary qualified for specially designed instruction in reading, writing and math. Mary received more appropriate academic services and accommodations for her online learning and was set up for access to full support programs when schools return to in-person learning.

A foster parent contacted one of our Educational Advocates regarding a youth in her home named Sarah. She was concerned about Sarah’s ability to read and write and felt that the youth needed to get evaluated for special education. The foster parent said that she had spoken to the youth’s teacher about her concerns last year, but nothing had happened.

Our advocate explained that the best way to request a special education evaluation is by making the request in writing. The advocate provided the foster parent with a special education request template, where all the foster parent had to do was fill in the blanks and send the email to the youth’s teacher. The advocate also explained the special education evaluation process to the foster parent and the length of time it can take before a student could receive special education services, as well as offered to participate in any school meeting that involved talking about the youth’s educational needs.

About 2 months later, after the evaluation was complete, Sarah was found to qualify for special education in reading, writing and math. The foster parent thanked our advocate for the support during the process.

Ben, a fifth-grade student, was very proud to have returned to the same school a second year in a row for the first time in his life. His time at the school, however, had been challenging – he struggled with behavior incidents and returned home to his caregiver with resulting bumps and bruises. One of our Educational Advocates joined the team to support in revisiting his special education supports to ensure he and his peers were safe. School staff were resistant to adding supports at first, but did agree to some additional support plans right before schools closed due to COVID.

Our Educational Advocate worked with the team for months in attempts to get on the same page and keep the youth’s needs at the center. Finally, the IEP team met all together again and this time, the Educational Advocate ensured the youth’s therapist could join. After hearing from the therapist, the school was receptive to the ideas and perspectives of what was challenging for the youth and aligned language and goals to the therapist’s work with the youth. The team all agreed the new IEP met the needs of the youth’s social-emotional needs and formed a more unified support team for this young scholar.

Learn more about our educational programs for youth experiencing foster care at treehouseforkids.org/fostering-futures.
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About the Author

Linsey is the Marketing & Communications Intern at Treehouse. She is a graduate student at Seattle Pacific University, where she is studying to become a Marriage and Family Therapist with a focus on adolescents and young adults.

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