As I recently wrote, I’ve spent the last two years leading a body of work here at Bellwether that focuses on the experiences of young people most affected by education fragmentation. These students are served by multiple public systems, change schools frequently, and may not have a single consistent adult to help them navigate a complex web of services and programs.
Our team has interviewed dozens of people directly impacted by these systems. While existing story collection efforts often require struggling people to be vulnerable in front of powerful strangers — which can sometimes cause unintended harm — we were committed to doing things differently.
Check out this behind-the-scenes footage to hear more from me on our approach:
Here are six key strategies we used to collect digital story materials while minimizing the burden on the storytellers:
You’ve read about Bellwether’s work in Utah, where we helped a team at the State Board of Education to develop a shared vision of quality for all their schools serving students in juvenile courts or the foster care system. And you’ve seen how our work in New Orleans resulted in an 18-month strategy to help the Youth Opportunity Center, part of the Orleans Parish School Board, evolve from a direct services provider to a community leader.
Our third partner in this work of ending fragmentation for youth was the El Dorado County Office of Education in California, where we partnered with leaders and stakeholders over 15 months to create a shared vision for improved countywide communication and information sharing. El Dorado County outperforms national averages on indicators of youth well-being as a whole, but it is also home to a population of young people unable to enjoy the County’s benefits. Our goal was to create a more coherent cross-agency experience for young people who come into contact with the County’s systems.
Atila, a young woman in El Dorado County, shared her story with us as we learned about how to better support young people. Atila now works with youth in one of the County’s juvenile facilities. Watch her story in the video below:
El Dorado County has many high-quality services, and there is, for the most part, enough to go around. But vulnerable young people and their families still struggle to thrive because of a lack of formal coordination between public agencies and community-based organizations, including courts, public safety agencies, behavioral health providers, and homelessness coordinators. Continue reading →
Last week, you read about Bellwether’s work in Utah, where we helped a team at the State Board of Education develop a shared vision of quality for all their schools serving students in juvenile courts or the foster care system. Today I’ll provide more information about our work in New Orleans, where we supported the Youth Opportunity Center, part of the Orleans Parish School Board, to create an 18-month strategy to evolve from being a direct services provider to becoming a community leader.
Social workers employed by the Youth Opportunity Center provide intensive case management services for some of the highest need youth and families in the city of New Orleans. While the Youth Opportunity Center has historically provided direct service work, their goal is to build the capacity of other city partners and ultimately become a strong community voice, magnifying their reach and impact by positioning other agencies, nonprofits, and community-based organizations to provide aligned supports for young people in a coherent way.
In New Orleans, the poverty rate is twice the national average, and in the last school year, 25 percent of students were chronically absent — up from 21 percent the year before. Staff at the Youth Opportunity Center see that students and families struggle to re-engage in their education because of significant barriers to accessing social services (e.g., transportation, illiteracy, and/or negative prior experiences with government or law enforcement). Because of New Orleans’ decentralized education system, schools vary in their capacity to support the highest need students without resorting to exclusionary disciplinary practices that lead students to further disengage.
The video below is from Buffy, a lifetime New Orleans resident who struggled to succeed in school herself and who is now trying to ensure that her child has a better experience than she did.
The work that the Youth Opportunity Center did with Bellwether resulted in the creation of an 18-month plan focused on three goals:Continue reading →
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.Continue reading →
Atila in El Dorado County, CA (from a series of Bellwether visuals)
Young people served by multiple agencies — like schools, mental health providers, child welfare agencies, and community nonprofits — experience a fragmented network of care. In fact, as Bellwether has pointed out again and again, fragmentation across care agencies results in uncoordinated, poorly communicated, and insufficient supports for some of our nation’s most vulnerable young people. And this means they are not getting the education they need and deserve.
We’ve been working on these issues, both as researchers and consultants on the ground, for more than two years. We’ve developed a unique approach to supporting local leaders as they streamline the educational supports for high-need students and break down the silos that exist between care agencies at the state and local levels.
Our approach places the education system at the center of all services, acting as the through-line for students. We do this because schools are the places where every kid shows up — education can be the one constant in the midst of chaos.Continue reading →