Foster children

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Many children who have been in the child welfare system, who are more likely to have difficulty in school, are concentrated in schools in the poorest neighborhoods on the South and West sides, a joint analysis by Catalyst and The Chicago Reporter shows. These children are likely to attend the system’s worst high schools, and few graduate. Schools get few, if any, extra resources to address the academic and emotional needs of these children.

Details

Neither CPS nor the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has accurately tracked the placement or academic performance of foster children. The best available data show that in 2001-2002, 20 percent of foster children in CPS were at 32 schools.

These schools are overwhelmingly African-American (91 percent) and low-income (75 percent). All of the 13 high schools and eight of the 19 elementary schools have such low student achievement that they have been on academic probation for at least one of the last five years.

The concentration stems from a recent push by DCFS to place wards of the state with relatives, officials agree.

A recent study, commissioned and disputed by DCFS, indicates that foster children, on average, perform below other CPS students. Frequently, foster children drop out or are listed as missing by the time they reach high school.

Action underway

The Chicago Public Schools is forming a focus group on highly mobile children, including foster children, to make policy recommendations for next year’s budget. Figuring out a way to collect data on foster children will be a priority.

“I have no system to get that information,” says Melissa Roderick, head of strategic planning. “I don’t have it centrally. It’s really, really, really a problem.”

DCFS has created educational liaisons to help foster children get school services. It also funds Project STRIVE, which brings extra counseling help to 10 schools with large numbers of students who are wards.

Eight south suburban school districts are pushing legislation that would provide extra money for foster children and reimburse districts for educating special-needs foster children, even after they are adopted.

Resources

DCFS has an online guide to help school administrators navigate child welfare agencies. Frequently asked questions cover a gamut of issues, from school-based child welfare investigations to how to track down a foster child’s caseworker.

DCFS education advisors intervene on behalf of foster children who need additional school services and serve as a resource for school staff. Cook County contacts are: Marguerite Chapman, south, (773) 371-6029; Christine Feldman, west and southwest, (773) 292-7732; Nancy Hablutzel, north, (312) 328-2477.

Initiatives for Children At Risk (ICARE) is a division of the CPS Office of Specialized Services that serves as a liaison between DCFS and schools with a significant number of students living in group homes. ICARE trains schools to handle student behavior problems, coordinates school placements for foster children and advocates for wards to get special education services. Contact Lillie Winston at (773) 553-1928.

Barbara Javaras oversees the CPS information office in Juvenile Court, which includes both juvenile detention and the child welfare courts that handle DCFS cases. The office helps judges, DCFS caseworkers, probation officers and other court staff obtain student records. (312) 433-5220.