Residential Education: An Emerging Resource for Improving Educational Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care?
This is an excerpt from a pre-publication version of the authors' manuscript published as: Lee, B. R. & Barth, R. P. (2009). Residential Education: An emerging resource for improving educational outcomes for youth in foster care? Children & Youth Services Review, 31, 155-160.
Bethany R. Lee, Ph.D.
Richard P. Barth, Ph.D.,
University of Maryland School of Social Work
Many national organizations that advocate for foster care reform (e.g., the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Children’s Rights Inc., Youth Law Center, and Casey Family Programs) have clearly established the reduction of group care usage as one of the cornerstones of their initiatives. For example, when Children’s Rights Inc. recently settled a class action lawsuit in Tennessee, they stipulated that children not be placed into group care facilities with more than eight children (Kenny A. v. Purdue, 2005). This limits the opportunity for a foster youth to participate in a residential education program, even if that is the best educational option for them andeven though it might have increased their likelihood of a successful outcome.
In contrast, some progress is being made in identifying a residential education model that does meet the concerns of critics who view all forms of group care as counterproductive and who are concerned that residential education for foster youth will interfere with their chance at reunification. When Los Angeles county Education Coordinating Council (ECC) initially proposed a residential academy for foster youth, stakeholders from the community (ranging from foster youth to child welfare administrators to politicians) were adamantly opposed to the idea, fearing it would keep kids away from families and the community in long-term group placements (personal communication, Carrie Miller, February 11, 2008).
To counter these fears and build community support, ECC invited these stakeholders to participate in planning committees to develop a program that avoided these concerns.
Through this consensus-building process, a residential education model emerged that all stakeholders endorsed. The school would be college-preparatory, but geared to B/C students who are currently placed in group home settings. The school would function as a boarding academy for foster youth, but also include day students from the local community. Boarding students would be encouraged to spend weekends with family or potential foster families. Efforts to achieve permanency would continue and when a permanency home was identified, youth could continue attending the school as day students while living in the community with a permanency family. By incorporating creative ideas, LA county emerged with a residential education model that met stakeholders’ approval and is slated for implementation once adequate land is secured.