Nov 26, 2007
In an effort to improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for foster youth in Alameda County, NCYL has joined a collaborative effort to provide foster youth with education surrogates.
Working through the Education Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeleyís Boalt Hall School of Law, NCYL and several other organizations are recruiting, training, and supervising law and graduate students to serve as education surrogates. The role of the surrogates is to help ensure that the educational needs of foster children are met. Surrogates actively evaluate the studentsí school placements, engage teachers and administrators, and advocate for needed support and services.
This past fall, nearly 20 UC Berkeley students completed their training and will be appointed by the Alameda County Juvenile Court to serve as one-on-one surrogates to foster youth in schools throughout the county. The students are required to serve for at least one year, although most of them remain for several years.
The program, which currently has about 10 students serving as surrogates, is a collaborative effort by NCYL, Protection & Advocacy, Inc. (PAI), the Alameda County Public Defenderís Dependency Office, and the Youth and Education Law Society at Boalt Hall.
The Need for Education Surrogates
Many foster children have greater educational challenges than other youth due to the trauma of abuse and neglect, the absence of support from parents or other family members, and frequent moves from one placement to another. Through no fault of their own, they often end up falling behind in their work and getting targeted unfairly for school discipline. They find themselves in schools that donít fit their individual needs, and without the necessary support services to help them stay on track.
Although there is no data reflecting the extent of the need in California, case workers and school employees report that foster youth often have no one available to help them with their educational needs and challenges. This problem is especially troublesome for foster children who have been placed in group homes far away from their families and communities. While school officials are aware of the need, they say there are not nearly enough people available to fill it.
In addition to helping meet this need, the Education Advocacy Clinic surrogate program provides a unique opportunity for graduate students to gain experience in educational advocacy and mediation. Surrogates learn first-hand about special education services, mental health services, and relevant laws affecting foster youth. They are paired with experienced surrogates, and are assigned a supervisor from NCYL or PAI who provides technical assistance and support.
Clinic students work closely with foster youth as well as the youthís teachers, social workers, group home providers, and other adults in the childís life to ensure the best education possible for that individual student. For example, surrogates help ensure that school districts are meeting the requirements of AB 490, enacted in 2004, which supports educational continuity for foster youth. Among other things, the law requires that students be allowed to remain in their school until the end of the year even if their placement changes; the expedited transfer of academic records; and the appointment by each district of a foster youth liaison to assist with placement, transfer, and enrollment issues.
Origin and Goals of the Boalt Education Advocacy Clinic
The Education Advocacy Clinic was started in 2004 as part of the Equal Justice Works Fellowship project of Boalt alumni Amy Levine. The two-year project was sponsored by PAI with support from Morrison Foerster LLP. While that project has ended, the Clinic, together with PAI and NCYL, has decided to build on Levineís work and create a sustainable clinic model.
Now in its third year, the Clinic has more than doubled the number of surrogates.
Meanwhile, Amy Levine continues to play a key role in the Clinic through her new position as a dependency attorney in the Alameda County Public Defenderís Office. In that position, she is specializing in the educational needs of foster youth, and working with the Clinic to identify and refer youth in need of surrogates. Foster youth are also referred to NCYL and PAI by teachers, school counselors, and administrators.
In the upcoming year, in addition to increasing the number of foster youth it helps, the Clinic plans to quantify the programís achievements, develop policy recommendations, and provide trainings to school employees on AB 490 and other relevant laws.