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Court-appointed advocates can help foster youth with school, nonprofit finds

School buses are parked outside Woodrow Wilson Middle School in City Heights, Aug. 29, 2017.
Guillermo Sevilla
School buses are parked outside Woodrow Wilson Middle School in City Heights, Aug. 29, 2017.

Only about 52% of middle school youth in foster care participated in four or more weeks of distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic, compared to 75% of all middle schoolers, which could exacerbate existing academic challenges, local foster care-focused nonprofit Voices for Children announced Tuesday.

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Before the pandemic, students in foster care fared worse than their peers on multiple measures of educational engagement and achievement due to the challenges they face, a statement from the nonprofit read.

The experiences of moving from home to home and frequently switching schools often result in many of these children being less engaged in school than their peers. During the pandemic, many students in foster care lacked appropriate technological resources and a supportive learning environment, which made it difficult for them to fully engage in distance learning. When schools reopened for in-person learning, students nationwide were behind in their learning, but for children in foster care, the gaps were especially significant.

Kelly Douglas, president and CEO of Voices for Children, said it's important to bring attention to the educational challenges faced by students in foster care and to take action. One way to support these students is to volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate.

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"Youth in foster care need supportive adults to help them achieve their educational goals, and CASA volunteers are uniquely positioned to do just that," Douglas said. "CASAs attend school meetings, facilitate participation in extracurricular activities, and advocate for children to receive tutoring, special education services if needed, and other support for unmet educational needs.

"Through their advocacy and consistent support, CASA volunteers remove educational barriers for children in foster care so that they can thrive," she said.

According to Voices for Children, as a result of the trauma they have experienced, nearly 50% of students in foster care are in need of special education services. When paired with CASA volunteers, children are more likely to receive appropriate resources to continue their education and to develop a trusted support system at home and school.

Voices for Children operates CASA programs in San Diego and Riverside counties and trains volunteers to advocate on behalf of children in foster care to ensure these youth have access to resources and consistent support.