EFyTECH Recommends Updated Rights and Protections for Foster Youth to Michigan Lawmakers
On December 13, Christian Goode, Christian Randle, and Bryanna Cook, three students from the Park West Foundation’s group of youth leaders called EFyTECH (Empowering Foster Youth through Technology), met with the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in Lansing to address the top challenges faced by Michigan’s foster youth today and determine the most efficient and equitable solutions to these challenges.
Common challenges to academic and social success among Michigan foster youth:
- Frequent moves.
- Not knowing what’s going on or happening regarding academic or foster care plan.
- Lack of educational standards.
- Lack of record-keeping standards.
- Enrollment in an un-productive curriculum that does not count towards high school graduation
- Making public school attendance a privilege that must be earned*
- Making Semi-Independent Living Preparations a privilege that must be earned*
- Unnecessary use of force.
- Culture that neglects the value of youth voice, and rights of children and youth in foster care.
- Disproportionate number of black children and youth in the most restrictive and toxic settings.
- Inadequate support of youth with food, financial assistance, housing, and transportation while in community settings (National Youth in Transition Data Survey).
Effects of the Challenges
- Extremely low graduation rate.
- Lost connections to family, health care, and school professionals.
- Loss of academic records including credits and transcripts.
- Repeated classes or entire grades.
- Students unable to graduate from high school.
- Increased dropout rate.
- A negative mental, emotional, social, and financial impact on foster youth.
- The inability of foster youth to find their place in society due to long-term isolation, trauma, and institutionalization.
We based our solutions to these challenges on the values and expectations of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), where all foster children and youth in Michigan, regardless of placement, must have equal access and opportunity to their peers in order to prepare for high school graduation, earn post-secondary credentials, and reach their full potential.
This would mean guaranteed and uninterrupted public school education for every foster youth in Michigan, in a safe, healthy, and stable environment where their rights and protections in accordance with the ESSA are consistently met throughout their entire k-12 education.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
- Amend the Education portion of the MDHHS Residential Placement contract to include Michigan Merit Curriculum, High School Diploma, Educational Development Plan, and defined Education & Medical Rights Holder roles.
- Immediate enrollment in local public school unless a court order states otherwise.
- Residential Placements must enroll students in an accredited Michigan Merit Curriculum leading toward a high school diploma and guarantee an uninterrupted public school education where students can participate in school and after-school activities.
- Youth must have access to Information regarding their case including: complete and accurate educational records, academic transcripts, credits, and assessments, coordinated in a youth-centered, co-created MDHHS computer system
- Right for students to be represented by legal Parents for Education, Education Rights Holders, or Surrogates. Neither DHHS nor its contractual agents can act as an educational surrogate for a court ward.
- Foster Youth 18 & up together with Surrogates or Education Rights Holders must be assisted in developing the state education plans for foster youth with Michigan Department of Education.
- Climate and Culture Matters:
- Invest in safe, healthy, and stable residential and educational placements with effective trauma-informed interventions including de-escalation techniques based on restorative practices.
- Access to safe havens for run-away youth where their story will be heard without causing further fear and/or intimidation.
- Invest in trauma-informed and safety oriented pathways, using Restorative Practices.
- Provide Legal Representation for Foster Youth facing delinquency charges while under state supervision and present student’s IEP/504 Plan if applicable.
- Students must be enrolled in public school by the next official school day without pre-assessment, any pre-condition, and clear plans for transportation, with an official transcript in hand.
- If the student is in 7th grade or above, an Education Development Plan (IEP/504 Plan) must be present.
- Comprehensive youth-centered transition plan focused on education and student wellbeing should be implemented from day one of placement.
- MDHHS Transition planning to prepare a youth-centered Education Development Plan and prepare a student for post-secondary opportunities must begin in 7th grade and continue throughout 12th Planning sessions must include all stakeholders including, but not limited to, the student, 2 supportive adults, and Education Rights Holder or Surrogate.
- All transitions must have judicial oversight. Require caseworkers to submit an academic progress update and an academic credit and records transfer plan at each hearing and before changing placement for a child or youth in foster care.
- As stability is necessary for their well-being, students in foster care deserve to be connected and rooted in a community by remaining in the same school district throughout their k-12 education
- Coordinate Transportation that allows students to participate in all activities at their designated school, including before and after-school programs, statewide. Michigan youth identified Transportation as 4th highest need on the National Youth in Transition Data at 47.2%.
- National Youth in Transition Data showed Michigan youth identified financial assistance as a 2nd top need at 59.2% and 4th top need as Housing at 55.2%
- Foster care payments range from $130 to $400 per day while foster parents and youth stipend remains around $21 per day. Increase the daily rate and stipend for both foster youth and foster parents to $40 per day.
- Over 60% of foster youth do not graduate high school with their peers statewide (National Youth in Transition Data for Michigan.) Raise the age of eligibility for students in foster care to participate in both the Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) and Education Training Voucher (ETV) to 23 years to ensure access to equal opportunity for all students in foster care.
- 74% of foster youth in Michigan identified food as their #1 need in the National Youth in Transition Data Survey of Michigan. The state must provide uninterrupted MDHHS SNAP or food assistance benefits for foster youth 16-26, regardless of their educational or employment status, using the allowable 15% exemption.
- Convene an equity and inclusion forum to increase access to post-secondary preparation programs such as Michigan Gear Up & TRIO to address the unique needs of students in foster care.
- Provide immediate support for students in foster care, who fall behind academically.
- Make physical copies of every student’s transcript available
- Reinstate MDHHS Education Planners and coordinate their service with college access navigators & Office of Scholarship and Grants.
WHAT HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED?
- Ongoing collaboration between the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Health and Human Services, and Youth with Lived Expertise of Foster Care.
- 8% Increase for Foster Youth Independent Living Stipend as of October 1st, 2022.
- Conversations around the reinstatement of Education Planners who can work in collaboration with the Office Of Scholarship and Grants & Local College Access Navigators to support School Foster Care Liaisons, Private Agency & MDHHS workers. (Tentatively)
- Access to School-Based Foster Care Liaisons List: MDE has made list of school-based Foster Care Liaisons public and will share an updated list with MDHHS on Youth In Transition site on a quarterly basis to allow foster youth, foster parents, workers, and guardians to better collaborate with schools.