Lawsuit does not impact Colorado's ability to improve the educational stability of students in foster care
If you only read the headlines, "Denver judge blocks school transportation provision added to Colorado law" or "Transportation caveat in Colorado foster-care education bill unconstitutional, judge rules", you wouldn't know that the lawsuit does not impact a local county human services department or a school district's ability to improve the educational stability of students in foster care, nor does it impact access to the $2.75 million in funds provided through the bill to help students remain in their home school when a placement change is necessary.
Colorado received national praise for providing financial support for transportation, in HB 18-1306, Improving Educational Stability For Foster Youth, as the first state to legislate the implementation of the federal law that compels school systems to ensure that, among other things, foster kids have a ride to school.
People often forget that child welfare is about more than a child’s safety, it is about a child's well-being. Our kids’ educational needs are as important as their physical safety and emotional well-being.
Opportunity for improvement - making a best interest determination for a school change
The assumption is that children should not move schools if they enter foster care, unless it is in their best interest. To ensure that this is the case in Colorado, the CDHS Administrative Review Division recently began reviewing whether county departments are following the proper process in making a best interest determination regarding a child’s potential change in schools as a result of a placement, or change in placement. Initial data reflects a need for significant improvement in this area.
According to the CDHS Administrative Review Division first available data for Q1 SFY2019, of the cases that were reviewed, when a student changed schools a best interest determination was completed before the school change only 11% of the time. For children and youth without a best interest determination made when required, 65% did not have a determination made, while another 31% had a determination made, but the determination was made after the change in schools had occurred.
"This early reporting is the product of not knowing exactly how to enter evidence of a best interest determination in Trails to accurately track the data and it also reflects the need for practice improvement in this area" said Samantha Garrett, the education specialist at the Colorado Department of Human Services Division of Child Welfare who serves as the primary subject matter expert on these issues for the Department. "Certainly, the need for more foster parents, particularly in communities that have a high number of children involved in the child welfare system, should not be overlooked as an area for improvement as well. It goes hand in hand with our ability to improve educational stability, and in turn, graduation rates for students in foster care."
Good news - there is money for transportation - it just needs to be spent.
"Thankfully, when there is a need for transportation to keep a child in their home school, funding has been available since July of 2018, providing a great resource for our counties to make educational stability a reality for children in care", continued Garrett. County departments are the only entity that has access to this funding so school districts need to work with the local county human services department to get reimbursement. To date, less than 2% of funds have been accessed by counties.
Professionals from both the CDHS Division of Child Welfare and the Colorado Department of Education have been working to improve educational outcomes for students in foster care and ensure that county and school district practices are aligned with federal policy intended to improve foster care education, as well as the process to access reimbursement from these funds. In July 2018, CDHS issued an operation memo to provide guidance to county human service departments on the implementation of HB18-1306 and encouraged counties to put in place a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with their local school districts by October 15, 2018. However, an MOU is not required to access funds for transportation to help students avoid a school change along with the difficult experience of entering foster care.
Inter-agency work is complicated.
A huge thanks to the following county human service departments for finalizing and submitting an MOU with some or all of the school districts in the county. Twenty-one (21) of Colorado's 64 county human service departments have an MOU in place with 38 of Colorado's 181 school districts.
Tools and resources to help improve educational stability for students in foster care
- Educational Stability Toolkit - including a Sample MOU
- Recorded webinar on accessing transportation funds
- OM-CW-2018-0019 Implementation of HB 18-1306 on Educational Stability
- OM-CW-2018-0027 Reporting on Transportation Funding for HB-1306
This article was last update January 2, 2019.