CASA volunteers, we’re just a few weeks away from the start of the new school year. Are you ready to speak up for your CASA child and advocate for their educational needs? We’ve put together some resources and reminders to help you be the best educational advocate you can be for the child you serve.
Like the foster care system, the education system is complicated. This article isn’t meant to be the be-all-end-all for your advocacy. Instead, consider it a jumping-off point to get you thinking about the many ways you can help your CASA child succeed.
Start with Texas CASA’s Educational Advocacy Guidebook. Like we said, the school system is complicated. We’ve done the research and heavy lifting for you when it comes to making sense of a confusing and complex topic!
The Educational Advocacy Guidebook examines how the school and child welfare systems intersect and provides you with the information and tools you need to make a difference in your CASA child’s education. It’s designed to be a quick and concise resource to help you navigate the laws, terminology, meetings, and many other areas of educational advocacy.
Download the Pocket Guide. We also provide a tri-fold pocket guide that fits conveniently in a wallet and acts as a quick and handy resource. This is perfect for any upcoming meetings with the school and your CASA child.
Ensure the child’s school knows about their foster care status. When school personnel know a child is in foster care, they can approach the child’s education and behavioral discipline with a more mindful, informed and compassionate eye. According to March 2019 data from DFPS, of the approximately 30,000 school-age children in state care, only 16,867 were officially identified by Texas public schools as being in foster care. That means more than 13,000 kids went to class every day without anyone at the school knowing about their circumstances.
CASA volunteers can help by making sure the child’s education decision maker (EDM) fills out DFPS Form 2085-E, and that the form is submitted to the school and the court in a timely manner. This is especially important considering that many laws passed during the 86th Legislative Session are focused on improving and expanding education-related services for these children – schools can’t help if they don’t know!
Also, keep the child’s privacy in mind at all times. Child welfare and education system stakeholders can work together to improve outcomes for kids through communication and collaboration. To do this, everyone needs a clear understanding about confidentiality and privacy, and when and how information is appropriately shared.
The Texas Education Agency, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), and the Supreme Court Children’s Commission developed a guide entitled Information Sharing Between Child Welfare and Schools: Maintaining Privacy and Promoting Educational Success. The guide addresses confidentiality requirements in both the child welfare and education systems and clarifies how teachers, caseworkers, caregivers, advocates and others can share and receive information about children and youth in foster care while maintaining and respecting privacy.
Understand the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the child’s education. Depending on the child’s needs and age, different people may participate in making education-related decisions including the caseworker, school staff, the education decision maker (EDM), the caregiver, the surrogate parent (if the child is receiving special education services), the child and the CASA volunteer. Since CASA might serve in one or more of these roles, it is very important for CASA volunteers to define their role and know how to work with everyone involved. Chapter 3 of the Educational Advocacy Guidebook breaks down these different roles, and who can serve in them, in an easy-to-understand way.
Identify the foster care liaison for the child’s school. Every school district and open enrollment charter school is required to appoint a foster care liaison. This person helps facilitate the enrollment and transfer of records for children in the legal custody of DFPS when enrolling or changing schools. More broadly, foster care liaisons also work to support their districts in implementing policy, practice and training that addresses the education of students in foster care. Find out who to contact in your school district on the TEA website.
Make sure the child has all the back-to-school supplies they need. If not, check with your local CASA program – they may have funding or supplies available, or if not, they may be able to direct you to community resources. Also, check that the staff at your program are aware of Texas CASA’s Computers for CASA Program, which provides free refurbished computers for kids in care.
Finally, talk with the child! The kids we serve are the best experts on their lives, and what they want and need. Make sure you’re having regular conversations about starting school. Don’t just talk about grades and goal-setting – make sure you’re invested in their day-to-day! Do they feel ready, not just academically, but emotionally? Socially? What more can you do to help? Check out the latest blog post from our CEO for tips.
Want more? For many more resources on general educational advocacy, special education and postsecondary education, see page 53 of the Educational Advocacy Guidebook.
As we enter a new school year, thank you for standing up for Texas’ most vulnerable children and ensuring they have the support they need to grow, learn and thrive. Every child has a chance – it’s you®.