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Monday, June 27, 2022

Proposed Bill Would Provide Support To Foster Children In Public Schools

Sen. T’wina Nobles, D-28

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium

A bill proposed by State Sen. T’wina Nobles looks to address issues of equity and support for foster children who attend public schools in the state to help them have successful outcomes in life.

The bill, SB 5184, will establish points of contact — a designated foster care liaison to provide support for young students in foster care, ensure that foster care students are enrolled in and regularly attending school, and to collaborate with the department of children, youth, and families to address educational barriers for these students – in all K-12 public schools for students in foster care.

According to the bill, the legislature acknowledges that students in foster care often face additional challenges, both academically and emotionally. However, according to Nobles, who was in foster care herself when she was growing up, when students are connected with a caring adult, are attending school regularly, and have the supports they need, they are more likely to be successful in school and in life.

“This bill is important to me because of my own background and experience in foster care,” says Nobles. “Recognizing that the reason why I went from a young person in foster care to an adult woman who is a state senator had a lot to do with caring adults and points of contact.”

Nobles says that it is important for youth in foster care to have the support of a village and people who actually pay attention to what is going in their life in order for them to be successful.

“Students benefit from having a village and having more people pay attention to their needs”, says Nobles. “And this is why I ended up having a fairly positive experience because of a point of contact.”

“So, this bill is emotionally significant to me because I see it changing the future of youth experiencing foster care by making sure that foster students are connected to caring adults,” adds Nobles.

Treehouse — a local organization that provides information on the foster care legal process and is working diligently to bring about a more in-depth awareness on the struggles of foster children and the system that is supposed to help them – is supportive of SB 5184 and says the measure looks to provide the same level of protection for youth in foster care as the state currently provides for homeless students.

“This is one of our top priorities in this session,” says Dawn Raines, Treehouse’s Chief Policy and Strategy Officer. “This bill actually came from an idea from Treehouse and a group of educational advocates.”

“There is law that exist for homeless students but does not exist for students of foster care and we have been on a long-term path to align the policies and practice and investments for the two populations because they experience very similar educational condition,” added Raines.

Advocates believe that point of contacts are the bridge between a foster child’s success or failure, as they provide the necessary support for this unique demographic of students. 

Raines says that while many districts have a person responsible at the district level to respond to the needs of youth in foster care, it is imperative that districts throughout the state have people at the building level in schools throughout the state to make sure that kids don’t fall through the cracks.

“Liaisons are at the district level [but] they do not know individual students in the school buildings and so we thought it was really important to extend that network down to each individual school building in the K-12 system,” says Raines. “So, this will appoint one adult who’s job it is to know who those young people in foster care are and coordinate resources and support and just make sure that the educational needs of those students are being met.”

The system as it stands is not enough. In order for schools to adequately respond to the needs of foster children, district liaisons could be asked to do more.  Training point of contact those adults who can buffer student transitions, providing emotional support and direct young students to other resources outside of education will be necessary in extending the network and reach of point of contacts throughout the districts and in individual schools. “Currently we have a system where our district liaisons are responsible for tracking the needs of our youth experiencing foster care across the district and this is an opportunity for liaisons to train point of contacts and help them meet the needs of foster children at a school site level,” says Nobles.

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