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Foster Youth at Heart of $1.5M Grant

The grant bolster's SDSU efforts to improve how school counselors work with foster youth.
SDSU aims to improve outcomes for foster youth.
SDSU aims to improve outcomes for foster youth.

Children in the foster care system tend to struggle more in school than their peers who come from so-called traditional households.

San Diego State University's College of Education hopes to change that trend, with the help of a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.

SDSU’s interdisciplinary Collaborative to Prepare Culturally Affirming and Responsive Education Specialists will use the five-year grant to improve outcomes of foster youth from diverse backgrounds who have disabilities.

Forty-six percent of students in foster care fail to complete high school.

“Children in the foster care system have more challenges than the average school-aged child,” said Tonika Green, a professor of school psychology in SDSU’s College of Education. “By understanding their challenges and how to better deal with them, we can help children in foster care have successful careers in school, but also help in their personal lives as well.”

Green will lead the SDSU program that will include 24 graduate students from SDSU schools of psychology, social work and school counseling. In addition to degrees, the students will earn Pupil Personnel Services credentials. Many of the graduates of these programs go on to careers in school districts throughout San Diego County.

Foster care students

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 400,000 children in the U.S. are in foster care — 68,000 of them in California. Nearly 70 percent of those children are school-aged. And as a group, 30 to 40 percent of those children receive special education services.

Students in foster care score 16-20 percent lower than children not in foster care on the statewide standardized achievement measures. And 46 percent of students in foster care fail to complete high school.

One of the most compelling, and hopefully most meaningful pieces of the CARES program, is the requirement of each student to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate through the Voices for Children program.

“It is crucial that school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists understand the impact that trauma plays on a child’s ability and-or desire to learn,” said Ashley Kruger, SDSU alumnus and advocacy supervisor with Voices for Children, who works with these volunteer advocates and their case children. “I am hopeful that through this grant, educators will learn more about the foster care system and how to effectively interact with foster youth to ensure educational success.”

The new program curriculum also includes extensive fieldwork opportunities. Students will work with culturally and linguistically diverse students with disabilities in foster care and their families in high needs schools. They will attend seminars, and participate in interdisciplinary coursework.

“Understanding the nature and complexities of this group of children — special needs Foster children — is only part of this program,” Green said. “Learning to advocate on their behalf, to understand and work within what is a very complex system, is also critical to the success of these young children.”

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