Advocates Seek School Success Strategies for Youth in Foster Care
Two years ago, Scentrellis Dixon and Shimaine Quimbley helped start the Southeast Affinity Group.
Members of the affinity group have a few key traits in common. They are all young (Dixon and Quimbley are 24). They have experience navigating the child welfare system. They are from the southeast — Georgia, Mississippi or Tennessee. And they have sharpened their leadership and advocacy skills via the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative®.
Three local Jim Casey Initiative site leads— Georgia EmpowerMEnt, Mississippi Youth Voice and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services — serve as partners in the group and the overall goal is clear: Push through reforms that support the academic success of kids still in foster care.
“We don’t just want a seat at the table, we want to make the table ours and be involved in the decision-making that impacts us,” says Dixon.
Making Permanency a Priority
When Dixon left foster care as a young adult, he didn’t have a proverbial village — or even a lone villager — to help support his journey. “In college, I didn’t have a permanent place to stay other than campus, which meant I didn’t have a place to live during school breaks,” he recalls. “The constant stress that came from having to find a new home every few weeks heightened my anxiety.”
The affinity group sees permanency as a priority. Its members know that children need stable homes and long-term relationships with caring adults. Without such support, young people can lack a sense of belonging and their ability to progress in school can suffer.
“Permanency does not just mean having somewhere to stay,” Quimbley explains. “Permanency means having a lifelong connection and community — and community is often built through relationships at school.”
Frequently moving from one living situation to the next can prevent or break critical classroom bonds. “The affinity group is exploring the effects of disruptions to schooling caused by foster care placements,” says Catherine Lester, an associate director with Casey’s Family Well-Being Strategy Group, “and thinking deeply about what it will take to ensure the benefits of permanency happen for students who have experienced foster care.”
Recognizing Racial Inequities in Foster Care
The affinity group is also reviewing data that suggest youth of color in foster care experience different outcomes than their white peers. Black and Latino youth spend a longer time in the child welfare system and are more likely to leave foster care without a placement in a permanent family, the data indicate. These differences mean that Black and Latino youth are more likely to age out of foster care with an inadequate education and experience hardships such as homelessness, poverty and unemployment in adulthood.
Sarah Bess Hudson — youth engagement administrator at Georgia EmpowerMEnt — recently met with the affinity group to review the history of the child welfare in the United States. Among other topics, the exercise explored structural and institutional racism and their impact on foster care outcomes and operations.
Learn about Casey’s efforts to promote authentic youth engagement best practices.
Read how Casey is supporting college readiness for youth in foster care.
Check out Casey’s racial equity and inclusion action guide.