Jim Casey Initiative in Georgia Raises Graduation Rates Among Youth in Foster Care

Posted October 22, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young people in foster care graduate at rates below their peers who are not in state care.

Stu­dents who expe­ri­ence fos­ter care face many chal­lenges on the path to earn­ing a high school diplo­ma or a GED. But the Mul­ti-Agency Alliance for Chil­dren (MAAC) is show­ing that, with the right resources, these young peo­ple can thrive.

MAAC, the Geor­gia site of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive®, oper­ates a pro­gram for youth in fos­ter care called Learn, Edu­cate, Achieve, Dream and Suc­ceed (LEADS). The LEADS pro­gram pairs par­tic­i­pants with an edu­ca­tion­al coor­di­na­tor and offers a wide range of indi­vid­u­al­ized edu­ca­tion­al sup­ports, such as school sup­plies, tutor­ing, edu­ca­tion­al advo­ca­cy and career planning.

But the pro­gram doesn’t stop there. It also offers a range of sup­ports, such as cred­it recov­ery assis­tance, that are shaped by the unique needs of youth in fos­ter care. Anoth­er exam­ple: In the event of a place­ment move — a major bar­ri­er to aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess for youth in fos­ter care — LEADS works to ensure that the move occurs with­in the same school or dis­trict and at a nat­ur­al break in the school year.

LEADS recent­ly con­clud­ed an inten­sive pro­gram for 300 stu­dents in sev­enth through 12th grade and high school equiv­a­len­cy diplo­ma can­di­dates. Beyond its stan­dard wrap­around ser­vices, LEADS paid for needs, such as prom and grad­u­a­tion fees, and launched a gift card incen­tive sys­tem that rewards stu­dents for improved atten­dance, grades and oth­er edu­ca­tion­al milestones.

The program’s per­son­al­ized, com­pre­hen­sive approach seems to be work­ing. Dur­ing the 201718 aca­d­e­m­ic year, 78% of eli­gi­ble LEADS par­tic­i­pants earned a high-school diplo­ma. This rate far exceeds the nation­al aver­age for youth in fos­ter care (50%) and is clos­er to the high-school grad­u­a­tion rate for all youth (84%).

Now in its sec­ond year, LEADS is sup­port­ing more than 500 youth and young peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing fos­ter care in Georgia’s Futon and DeKalb counties.

LEADS pro­vides stu­dents with the same sup­port that I might pro­vide for my own chil­dren,” says Vic­to­ria Salz­man, MAAC’s chief strate­gic devel­op­ment offi­cer. Edu­ca­tion­al coor­di­na­tors are advo­cates. They help to secure fund­ing for class mate­ri­als and trans­porta­tion to school and serve as liaisons between the stu­dent and the admin­is­tra­tion to make sure the student’s edu­ca­tion­al needs and goals are being met.”

The pro­gram also helps to build trust and sta­bil­i­ty between stu­dents and pro­gram lead­ers and staff.

Youth expe­ri­enc­ing fos­ter care are so often let down by the sys­tems that should be sup­port­ing them,” says Kaytie Mark­fort, an edu­ca­tion super­vi­sor at MAAC who has worked as a LEADS edu­ca­tion­al coor­di­na­tor. We hope that LEADS, by lis­ten­ing to the stu­dents’ stat­ed goals and fol­low­ing through on our com­mit­ments, can pro­vide the reli­a­bil­i­ty and con­sis­ten­cy need­ed for all stu­dents to thrive.”

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