For a student in foster care, stability is key. Children are removed from their home and placed in the foster care system, where they await family reunification, adoption, or another safe and permanent home. Schooling, however, can be the one constant in their lives.
“Foster youth may move from place to place, but if they can stay in the same school, with the same friends and adults who know them, they are more likely to have reduced trauma,” explained Mary McGrath, San Mateo County Office of Education’s Director of Safe and Supportive Schools.
The Foster Youth Services (FYS) program at the County Office of Education plays a critical role in providing that educational stability for students in foster care. When a student enters the foster care system, San Mateo County's Children and Family Services notifies FYS staff, who then contact the student’s current school and work with the school team to provide wrap-around services and support.
Youth in foster care face unique challenges that put them at risk of falling behind in their education. Moving to a new school can decrease time in a classroom or place them in a class where information is skipped or repeated. As a result, students in foster care may fall behind in credits and opportunities to pursue success.
To provide consistency and continuity in the education of students in foster care, the FYS team collaborates and builds relationships with district staff, including counselors, site liaisons in the high schools, and principals in K-8 districts. They provide basic training and individual support to district staff and attend school meetings to advocate on behalf of youth in foster care.
“Through our advocacy on behalf of our students, we also help associated professionals become more knowledgeable and better prepared to support the youth,” said Renée Vorrises, one of SMCOE’s two educational liaisons in the FYS program.
This school year, the program is focused on identifying district areas of need, expanding training, streamlining paperwork, and documenting processes so district staff can better support their students.
“The ultimate goal is to provide constancy and as much security and consistency as possible,” said McGrath. “We are hoping that through relationship-building with the schools and districts, our work will lead to better outcomes for these youth.”