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New state money helping LAUSD expand services for foster youth

Yana Gracile | June 11, 2014

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LAUSD foster youth program expandsThe new state funding formula that is sending more money into LA Unified is enabling the district to expand programs for foster youth, a group of students who have been under-served by the district for years.

The LAUSD student population currently includes between 8,500 and 11,600 foster youth, as much as 12 percent of the total foster youth in the state.

Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, the district is budgeting $8.82 million for foster youth programs, expanding the financial support from almost nothing, according to budget documents submitted to the board yesterday by Superintendent John Deasy. The money will be used primarily for hiring 75 counselors.

For the 2015-16 school year, the support jumps to $9.82 million with 10 additional hires, and a year later, the spending rises to $10.82 million, with another 10 hires for a three-year total of 95.

All the new funds come through the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

“We’re really excited about the expansion of our foster youth program because this is the first time our school district will be able to really provide the service that our foster youth need,” Erika Torres, LA Unified’s coordinator of pupil services, told LA School Report.

The new social workers will be placed at school sites with the highest concentration of foster youth and at 17 education support centers across the district to focus on providing intensive services and comprehensive support for the students and their families. The goals are to reduce dropout rates and connect the students with services available to them throughout the county.

Torres says the expanded program will make sure that every student has an individualized academic plan and a psychological, social and academic assessment provided by a pupil services attendance counselor, who will act as a liaison between LA Unified and the county’s Department of Children and Family Services.

The assessment will help determine if a student needs mental or physical health services, tutoring, mentoring, among other services, and counselors will make sure the student can access that resource.

Patricia Armani, LA County’s Department of Children and Family Services administrator, whose agency has teamed with LAUSD to help implement the expansion, said a majority of foster children suffer from mental trauma, caused by neglect and abuse at their home. Some children, she said, move in and out of several foster homes and schools in one year, adding to their trauma.

Armani said children placed with new foster parents and a new school often struggle with issues such as living with strangers, fitting in, making new friends and concentrating on new school work.

But Armani said she believes the new added funding will have a huge impact by providing dedicated, committed adults at schools who will act as mentors, offering guidance and support and helping the students stay focused at school and connected to services.

“You have someone now paying attention to these kids and holding them accountable,” she said, adding that each counselor will be responsible for 100 foster youth.

Depending on each case, mental and other services will be provided by the county, leaving LAUSD services available for other students.

“I can’t tell you how encouraged I am by LAUSD’s commitment to our kids,” Armani said.

LAUSD and the county also intend to share data and information about foster youth, including previous schools attended, to ensure that schools have all the necessary background information on the foster youth, including their transcripts, to help them stay on track to graduate.

“Our ultimate goal is to help our students be successful in school,” Torres said.

Torres said the district hopes the program’s long term impact will be improved attendance records and graduation rates to put foster youth on a path to college.

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