Volunteers needed to boost foster kids' education

2014-06-13T00:00:00Z Volunteers needed to boost foster kids' educationBy Patrick McNamara Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The burgeoning Juvenile Court program designed to improve the educational outcomes of children in foster care has put out a call for help from the community.

“Kids were coming into the system faster than we planned,” said Pete Hershberger, a former Republican state lawmaker and current director of FosterEd in Tucson.

FosterEd, which launched a two-year pilot program in Pima County in January, aims to assist the thousands of children in foster-care situations through appointment of educational champions who will guide the child through their education.

Pima County Juvenile Court is one of three courts in the nation taking part in the FosterEd program, an Oakland, California-based initiative of the National Center for Youth Law.

As initially planned, the court-appointed educational champion would be either a caseworker, counselor, foster parent or biological parent of the child. The educational champion would become an important part of the child’s life and education, helping the child remain up to date with schoolwork, communicating with teachers and taking the lead in all aspects of the foster child’s education.

Hershberger said FosterEd needs more educational champions and has begun to recruit and train volunteers from the community .

The volunteer program would work similarly to the Court Appointed Special Advocate, where a judge appoints community volunteers to act as advocates in the best interest of children who have been the victims of abuse and neglect.

In Arizona, about 14,000 children are in the foster-care system. In Pima County, 4,000 kids live in foster situations.

Children in foster care have been found to drop out of high school at double the rate of the general population, according to statistics on the FosterEd website.

Foster children also frequently perform below grade level, get held back one or more grades in school and attend four-year colleges at rates well below the general population — only about 3 percent of foster children attend university, according to the group.

Hershberger said FosterEd now has a presence in the six major school districts in Pima County, serving about 150 children in the first few months of the pilot program.

Although the intent was to have the biological parents act as educational champions for as many as the children as possible, Hershberger said that’s only the case for about 15 percent of the children. Another 17 percent of the children have been paired with other relatives to assist in their educational goals.

Training and support will be available for volunteers.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or pmcnamara@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @pm929

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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