LAWRENCE — Students in foster care often have numerous people working in many aspects of their lives, from courts to schools and at home. The problem is that it is not always easy for those entities to communicate with one another. The University of Kansas has received a grant to improve communications among schools, social agencies and foster parents, and in turn improve educational stability and graduation rates for students age 10-17 in foster care.
Nationally, about 50 percent of students graduate from high school. That number for foster students is significantly lower. In Kansas, about 23 percent of students in foster care graduate from high school.
Teri Garstka, research associate at KU’s Institute for Educational Research and Public Service in the School of Education, and Alice Lieberman, professor of social welfare, are principal investigators of a 17-month grant from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. The grant will fund a cooperative partnership among the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services, Kansas State Department of Education, foster care providers and USD 501 school district in Topeka.
“The fact that these graduation rates are so low is a concern to us at the university as well as to SRS and the state,” Lieberman said. “We want to begin removing some of these system barriers and improve communication among all entities so students get the best possible education.”
Garstka and Lieberman will work with both local and state level agencies to develop policy- and data-sharing agreements among agencies. The pilot program in Topeka will help serve as a model for how teachers and case workers can use data from numerous sources to help inform and make the best decisions for students in foster care. They will also help develop evidence-driven training programs to address causes of educational instability.
Across the state, agencies such as SRS, Kansas State Department of Education and local school districts have their own data systems. The systems include a wealth of information about students in foster care, including age, their location, grade-point average and much more. However, they are not easily accessible to individuals outside of the agency, even those who work with the students. By encouraging collaboration and developing cross-systems approaches, the researchers and partnering agencies hope to improve educational outcomes and ultimately help influence state policy that supports education for the students.
“It’s essentially building a system to understand best practices, understand the scope of the problem as it exists now and figure out what will help these students succeed in school,” Garstka said of the program.
The goal is to develop a successful collaborative system in Topeka, known as a “Kansas Blueprint for Change,” which could move to districts throughout the state to help improve cross-system collaboration. KU will also perform an evaluation of the outcomes of the program and coordinate a state-level task force of foster parents, youth in care, educators, court officials, agencies such as SRS and others invested in the lives of Kansas children.
“This project will help give those who work with students in foster care the tools to use the information in their respective systems and put the puzzle pieces together to help ensure they get the best education they possibly can,” Lieberman said.