My career and social policy research aspirations involve promoting, researching, and implementing two collaborations to help foster children advocate for their educational needs: the first collaboration is between the Department of Human Services and graduate students at the University of Iowa including secondary agencies like Child Independent Advocate Services; and the second collaboration will be between the University of Iowa schools of education, law, and social work that will provide the student advocates DHS will utilize for children and their families trying to obtain special education services within their local public school districts (See program model in appendix 1).
The impetus for these collaborative efforts is based on my internship experience as a graduate student in social work, in combination with my law degree, working as an advocate for children with special needs seeking accommodations and services from their local school systems. During this experience, I learned that advocating on behalf of children’s right to special education services in public schools is a full time job. My current role is to provide guidance to parents on their children’s rights, special education laws including statutes, regulations, case law, and tactics for how to successfully advocate for their child in obtaining the services unique to their child’s learning need from a local agency: Independent Child Advocate Services. This agency obtains referrals from concerned parents in the Vinton and surrounding primarily rural areas of Iowa needing more support. For my current project, I travel to IEP meetings, purchase books and resources that I can use to learn strategies that will help parents, and create trainings and handbooks for parents on the law and how to be a good advocate for their child. The purpose of obtaining the grant is to expand my current role of advocacy to include children in the child welfare system and help create a collaboration to provide these services long term.
Besides lacking parents as advocates, foster care children may have weaker cognitive abilities (Fanshel & Shinn, 1978; Fox & Arcuri, 1980); poorer academic performance, classroom achievement, grade retention, and special education placement (Goerge, Van Voorhis, Grant, Casey, & Robinson, 1992; Heath, Colton, & Aldgate, 1994; Iglehart, 1994; Runyan & Gould, 1985) than their peers. Poor educational functioning in school often results in student’s inability to become contributing members of their community as adults. Research illustrates the need to overcome barriers between public schools and the child welfare system (Altshuler, 2003). In one study utilizing focus groups of caseworkers a caseworker stated, “The foster parents and the caseworkers need to know what the educational law is so they can advocate for their child, when they don’t see their child getting what they need”(Altshuler, 2003 p. 12). The role of an educational advocate for children in the child welfare system is to collaborate between the child welfare and educational systems by providing a link between child welfare children’s unique educational and social needs and the public school system’s resources like 504 and Individualized Education Programs.
Proponents have advocated for collaboration between the child welfare and public school system for the past decade (Bowen & Richman, 2002; Franklin & Allen-Meares, 1997). The mission of the first collaboration between DHS and an advocate is to complete outreach to the Department of Human Services and Juvenile Justice System in order to receive referrals of children who have special educational needs and successfully advocate for these children in obtaining the accommodations and services appropriate for their unique learning needs. In the long term, this project will expand into an attempt to promote an additional collaboration between the education, social work, and law schools in providing students to continue advocacy services in collaboration with local agencies like ICAS and DHS (See model in appendix 1)
The initial collaboration between DHS and an educational advocate will be modeled after the collaboration between domestic violence advocates and Department of Human Services child abuse and neglect cases successes in referring domestic violence child welfare cases to domestic violence advocates. Similarly, Department of Human Services will refer foster children needing educational advocacy to a student advocate team that includes a law, social work, and education student that will analyze each foster child’s case and make recommendations for advocacy that are in that child’s best interests emotionally, legally, and educationally. A model of a similar effort for the second collaboration is illustrated by the Middleton Children Right’s Clinic’s collaboration with Drake University social work, law, and education students in analyzing child abuse and neglect children that the clinic represents.
Upon receiving the scholarship, I plan to complete an extensive review of the literature on the success of child welfare children receiving advocacy in the educational setting specifically in obtaining 504 or Individualized Education Programs, write a research proposal, submit proposal to IRB board for approval, and then implement my research project during my advanced practicum in collaboration with my professor and supervisor. By designing a study that can both, provide a necessary service to our community, and determine the effectiveness of the educational advocacy we provide, we will help to develop best practices in a social work setting. The collaboration between social work, education, and law schools will be presented to the University of Iowa at this time as well as an effort to continue advocacy for these children long term.
Positive youth development theory will frame this project in that foster children will be directly involved in crafting IEP goals, incentives, and accommodations themselves. In this way, children are more invested in the learning process and achieving their annual goals. Meeting with children and preparing trainings for them is an area that I plan on expanding on in future career opportunities in the agency where I presently intern. My current and future plans are to continue to learn, participate, and advocate for families struggling to obtain the services necessary to help their children learn and to create a long term collaboration of educational advocates for the foster children through the University of Iowa’s schools of social work, law, and education program’s potential to help children in their community thrive.
Thanks for your consideration,
PROGRAM ACTION – MODEL
SITUATION: FOSTER AND OTHER SPECIAL NEED CHILDREN CAN BENEFIT FROM EDUCATIONAL ADVOCACY
PRIORITIES: PROVIDE A LONG TERM COLLABORATION BETWEEN BOTH 1) DHS AND U OF I STUDENTS 2) AND GRADUATE STUDENTS IN LAW, SOCIAL WORK, AND EDUCATION WILL DETERMINE THE BEST INTERSEST OF CHIDLREN REFERRED.
1. DHS will be willing to provide referrals.
2. Trained advocates benefit foster children.
3. U of I departments will be willing to collaborate.
1. Educational system needs to be willing to cooperate.
2. Foster parents/legal custodian of children need to be part of process.
3.Multidisciplinary teams need to be able to work together to meet each child’s educational, emotional, and legal needs for special education in school setting.
Aldgate, J., Heath, A., Colton, M. & Simm, M. (1993). Social Work and the education of children in foster care. Adoption and Fostering, 17, 25-34
Altshuler, S. J. (1997). A reveille for school social workers: Children in foster care need our help! [Trends and Issues]. Social Work Education, 19, 121-127.
Behrman, R.E.(Series Ed.) & Center for Future of Children (Vol. Ed.)(1992). School- linked services. The Future of Children, 2(1).
Courtney, M.E., Piliavin, I., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Nesmith, A. (2000). Foster youth transitions to adulthood: A longitudinal view of youth leaving care. Child Welfare, 80, 685-718.
Goerge, R.M., Van Voorhis, J. Grant, S., Casey, K., & Robinson, M. (1992). Special education experiences of foster children: An empirical study. Child Welfare, 71, 419-437.
Heath, A.F., Colton, M.J.& Aldgate, J. (1994). Failure to escape: A longitudinal study of foster children’s educational attainment. British Journal of Social Work, 24, 241-260.
Jackson, S. (1988). Education and children in care. Adoption and Fostering, 12, 6-10.