Recently a group of employees from our residential treatment program expressed their concern about some of the residents who attended the local public schools. They said the residents were at an increased risk of failing school and their treatment was being jeopardized because of the inconsistency between the school setting and the residential program. With the implementation of the statewide reforms for children in foster care, every effort is made to maintain children within their homes and communities, utilizing residential care for only those who need a very comprehensive short-term program. This program is focused on stabilization and the development of a long-term plan to reunite the family, if possible, and return the child to their community ideally within a six-month period.
The success of early intervention and prevention community-based programs has contributed to helping children remain safe within their homes, schools and communities. However, for children and families for whom these interventions have not been successful residential treatment is often indicated. As a result, increasingly residents in our campus treatment program present with very complex clinical issues resulting from severe traumas. Labeled as “foster children” they are far more challenged than children who have been referred to either foster home (now referred to as resource homes) or group homes that offer no clinical services.
Over the years local school systems have developed the capacity to serve well the “typical” student from a foster or group home. However, students referred from treatment centers like Hillsides require a more comprehensive therapeutic environment that exceeds the competencies and capacity of local public school systems special education programs.
In spite of the clear inability of the school system to serve these students well, local school districts have insisted on enrolling them resulting in many students being poorly served. Not only do these students fail to achieve academically, they are at risk of being bullied and traumatized, undermining their well-being and the hope of successfully being reunited with family and community.
The failure to engage the education system when developing the current child welfare reforms has contributed to this unacceptable situation that fails vulnerable children and places all parties at risk.
Reforms are messy enterprises that require regular review and attention in order to make corrections and remain on track. Educating vulnerable children with complex clinical issues without regard for effectiveness or impact is a dereliction of responsibility and unacceptable. Our children deserve better.
Our efforts continue to engage all interested parties: parents, guardians, students, school systems and social workers to look beyond compliance with particular regulations to see the whole child’s needs and at the end of the day provide for their best interests.