Advocates Seek School Success Strategies for Youth in Foster Care

Posted January 4, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young black man in cap and gown smiles at the camera while holding his diploma.

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.

Relat­ed Resources

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.

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