In Monday’s Los Angeles Times there was an open letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board encouraging the board to use an influx of state funding as intended for the highest need students. Among those groups designated as having the “highest need” are youth in foster care. These students often require individualized instruction not only because of clearly identified learning challenges, but because of the traumas they have experienced. The concern is that several years of draconian cuts to the public education system have decimated any number of education services. Consequently, the school districts will use these funds to balance their budgets without regard for the intended beneficiaries of these funds–students most in need.
School districts like LAUSD and Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) are under extraordinary pressure to provide not only basic education, but any number of specialized services to its diverse students. The additional funding from the state is a godsend that if used appropriately can greatly ease this burden and result in improved services to students in extreme need. The temptation is always for a quick fix to restore teaching positions that have been lost and address longstanding concerns without necessarily making sure the intended purpose of these new funds is adequately addressed.
May is National Foster Care Month, certainly an important time for us to recall the indispensable role foster homes play in providing care and comfort to the most vulnerable children. Now is the time for us to raise up the profile of the vast majority of foster parents, who despite the sensational reports of a few abusive foster parents, are caring for very vulnerable children with no incentive other than the knowledge they are making a difference in the life of a child. As much as National Foster Care month is an opportunity to focus on foster parents, this time is also an occasion to shed light on the challenges these children face in an education system that is overwhelmed and often unprepared to address their specific needs.
I’ve reported here the frustration that we at Hillsides have had with the local school system. For many of our residents who are best served by the local school system rather than our own Hillsides Education Center, there is a constant concern that their educational needs are being inadequately addressed. More often than not, their behavior escalates to the point of being disruptive simply because they are placed in poor environments with little support and no real appreciation of the extent of their emotional vulnerability.
A successful experience in school is essential in helping children in foster care build their self-esteem and to be hopeful about their future. An educational environment that does not truly account for their needs undermines their academic success unintentionally.
Although safeguards have been put in place to encourage that children who enter foster care continue to be served by their local public school, more often than not, distance makes this impossible. Schooling is interrupted, creating further stress and trauma for already very vulnerable children. This makes it all the more important that whatever school they find themselves enrolled is especially sensitive and equipped to address their specific needs. These new state funds are specifically designated to accommodate these children and others with special needs. Hillsides joins with the other sponsors of this open letter to encourage not only LAUSD but also PUSD to appropriately set aside the resources necessary to adequately provide for these children.
Efforts to reduce the number of children in foster care have been very successful because of a network of very effective community-based services oriented to supporting them and their families without requiring a separation. But the numbers of children in the foster care system are still staggering: nationwide 399,546, statewide 54,288, and 20,676 in Los Angeles County alone. Caring for these children must be a priority. Adequate funding of the services they require, whether it be supporting the foster care system or the education system, will reflect how much we judge these children to be a priority for our communities.