Oakland, We Are Failing Our Foster Youth. These Kids Deserve Better.

The system lies.  Rosy language disguises the routine inequities.  Promises made are seldom kept to some.  You can see this in black and white in OUSD’s recent report from the Foster Youth Advisory Commission, which shows how these youth are shortchanged.  These are some of our highest need and lowest performing students, and while they generated roughly $750,000 from the state’s funding formula, they received only $250,000 in services.  Something needs to change.

These are literally our kids, they are technically wards of the state, and the state is us.  We are failing.

Nobody contradicted the financial numbers at the meeting, and nobody promised to make it right.

Foster youth need and deserve our support

Through an accident of birth, some children end up in foster care.  These are some the strongest and most resilient children you will ever meet.  They have unlimited potential, but they face immense challenges.  They frequently change schools and lose learning time, face trauma and instability, are disproportionately disciplined, more likely to have special needs and a variety of other challenges that  show up in academic outcomes.

Only 4% of OUSD foster youth met state standards in math, with none exceeding the standard, and 9% met or exceeded standards in English language arts.  I think these are the lowest rates for any subgroup in the district.

Distinct needs for specialized supports

These youth often have distinct needs that don’t fit into the standard support structures.  They DO need a dedicated central office staffer to support and monitor programs and sites, and also more specific developmentally appropriate supports.

Because foster youth tend to be highly transient, as placements change, and also to have more constricted time, needing to check in at placements by specified times that may not align with afterschool schedules.  They need a different more individualized support structure.

And foster youth do get lost in the shuffle.  OUSD actually can’t even accurately say how many foster children it has, and many sites themselves are unaware and unsupportive of the foster children they have (which is also a charter issue).  Our youth deserve better.

The numbers don’t add up and kids lose

Despite the funding coming in, there are only two full time counselors for foster youth, both work at large comprehensive high schools.  There are no counselors serving middle schoolers or elementary schoolers.  There is almost no support for foster families.  And despite the real and substantial work that foster youth are doing themselves to listen, define, and propose improvements, they are volunteers, where they should be stipended, for doing the hard work that we have neglected.

I have to applaud the young people, the committee and the dedicated OUSD staff, and the brother who was leaving OUSD for Peralta Colleges that have been working on these issues.  It is clear that real work has taken place on the committee, with real committed folks digging in on it.  That work should be honored.

This is money dedicated for foster youth.  It is allocated to the district and to schools to serve them.  We owe this as an ethical and legal duty.  And if ethics aren’t incentive enough, I know there were some lawyers in the audience.

Hard choices, broke district

OUSD is in a financial crisis.  Money is short to come by.  Foster youth are not a power constituency in the district.  And in the shuffle for a piece of a shrinking pie, the big dogs usually eat first.  That is how politics work, despite pronouncements of equity.

These youth deserve better from us, and I hope we deliver.

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What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Oakland, We Are Failing Our Foster Youth. These Kids Deserve Better.

  1. Foster children are an highly at risk population but a small population. It is the small size for a big District that could be looked at as an advantage. The ideas of reforming intervention strategies for all in OUSD should first be carefully studied with this targeted population. We are in the East Bay blessed with an abundance of teaching colleges and they should be recruited to focus on this population.

  2. One more thing. The fact that the funding doesn’t reach the students it is targeting needs to be recognized an unacceptable by the OUSD Board and they need to provide the “leadership” not to allow that shame situation to continue.

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