How Bellwether Transformed Agencies Supporting Youth in Utah, California, and Louisiana, Part 2: The Utah State Board of Education

As I mentioned in my last post, Bellwether has worked with three partner agencies over the past year to streamline educational supports for high-need students by breaking down the silos that exist between care agencies at the state and local levels. The first example we’ll dive deeper into is Utah, where we helped a team at the State Board of Education develop a shared vision of quality for all of their schools serving students in juvenile courts or the foster care system. 

The Utah State Board of Education’s Youth in Care (YIC) program provides educational services and programs to about 50,000 young people under the age of 21 who are in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services (the state’s foster care agency) or the Division of Juvenile Justice. YIC does this by contracting with local school districts to operate programs in secure facilities (like juvenile justice or residential treatment facilities), in communities serving kids who live at home or in community-based placements, or in local public schools.

Fragmentation is especially prevalent in Utah, where we found little formal collaboration or communication between the systems that serve youth. This means there is no systematic way to coordinate or hold accountable the service providers working with and for these young people. We found that the type, intensity, and quality of interventions offered varied widely in ways that weren’t responsive to the needs of young people themselves. Ultimately, what we saw was that access to and delivery of services was inequitable across the state, with no clear shared vision for what high-quality services should look like or include.

And the results aren’t good: 43% of students in the care of the Division of Juvenile Justice Services and 24% of students in the care of Child and Family Services are chronically absent, compared to only 12% of students in Utah overall. 

If you don’t go to school, you can’t learn. On average, 44% of all of Utah’s students are proficient in English Language Arts and 47% are proficient in math. But only 7% of youth in juvenile justice system are proficient in English, and a scant 3% are proficient in math. For those in foster care, 17% are proficient in English and 17% are proficient in math.

Stories of some of the youth caught in these systems are captured in this short video, which we filmed inside one of Utah’s secure juvenile facilities:

Utah’s work with Bellwether focused on creating a plan to ensure that all YIC students have access to a high-quality education that prepares them to graduate from high school and access the resources and opportunities similar to students outside of custody. YIC has created a common definition of quality and a corresponding rubric that partners will use to assess all programs.

Here is a brief summary of YIC’s go-forward plan:

YIC staff shared this about the results of our collaboration:

Bellwether…provided a structure and process of engagement that has given us clear direction and purpose in our efforts to improve quality, equity, and accountability within our statewide responsibilities to provide educational opportunities for our very diverse and vulnerable population of students.

Bellwether Education Partners is currently accepting letters of interest from state and local leaders interested in partnering with us to improve coherence and coordination across agencies and departments to better serve young people who experience disruptions to their education pathways. Contact me if you’re interested in partnering like we did with Utah’s State Board of Education.

Read more of our blogging on ending fragmentation here. Check back next week for details about our work in California and Louisiana.