Agencies reach pact to help foster youths 

Schools have been slow to implement sweeping legislation passed four years ago to protect foster youths’ educational rights, but a new agreement between 27 San Francisco offices and schools is aimed at making schooling smoother for kids in foster care.

Assembly Bill 490, which took effect in January 2004, requires schools to do everything they can to make sure foster youths stay in the same school even when they change families, and to transfer students’ records within two days when they must change schools. Doing so helps provide some stability in otherwise very unstable lives, said Maya Webb, who runs the Foster Youth Services division at the San Francisco Unified School District.

When a foster youth changes schools, it can set the student back four to six months, especially when records don’t follow. And foster youth tend to move a lot. Jeff Perry, educational advocate with Court-Appointed Special Advocates, has one charge who changed schools 11 times before he reached seventh grade.

Last year, SFUSD’s foster-youth services were funded by a $342,151 federal grant, spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

Under an agreement adopted last week by the San Francisco Board of Education, a plethora of agencies that manage pieces of foster youths’ lives — from schools to school-district agencies to The City’s juvenile probation, court and public health departments — pledged to keep student records up to date so the 600 foster youth in San Francisco public schools don’t fall behind.

It takes so many agencies in part because foster youth have higher incidences of truancy and special-education needs, Webb said.

Melina Stoney, who graduated from Lowell High School in 2007, was relatively lucky. Despite being raised in an abusive home and entering foster care at 16 with her two sisters, she is now an undergraduate at Clark Atlanta University.

"Most of these kids, they’ve had to grow up so fast," she said. "We have to be responsible for ourselves."

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

Foster youths by the numbers

» There are more than 500,000 children and youths in foster care in the United States; approximately 20,000 youths "age out" or emancipate from foster care each year.

» 100,000 foster youths live in California.

» 33 percent of children in foster care are Hispanic, 32 percent are black, 31 percent are white, 3 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander and 1 percent are American Indian.

» Up to 50 percent of former foster/probation youths become homeless within the first 18 months of emancipation.

» Youths in foster care are 44 percent less likely to graduate from high school.

Source: On The Move Bay Area, Families for Children

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Beth Winegarner

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