University of Vermont

University Communications

New CESS Grant Aims to Improve the Educational Stability and Outcomes of Youth in Foster Care in Vermont

Research indicates that every time a child changes schools they lose approximately six months of educational progress, resulting in a lack of basic academic skills and major disadvantages when transitioning to adulthood. A new grant won by the College of Education and Social Services (CESS) aims to improve the educational stability and outcomes of middle and high school youth in foster care in Vermont and serve as a national model.

The two-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children & Families will fund VT-FUTRES (Fostering Understanding To Realize Educational Stability), a collaborative project between CESS and the Vermont Department of Education, Justice for Children’s Task Force of the Vermont Family Court, Vermont Department of Children and Families (DCF), and children and families involved with DCF.

The grant builds on the success of the evidence-informed intervention strategies implemented in the 2006 Casey Breakthrough Series Collaborative grant known as Rock the GRADES. That effort, spearheaded by Joan Rock, regional resource coordinator with the State of Vermont, increased educational stability from 37 percent to 85 percent for youth in foster care in a region in central Vermont. The core of the new grant is based on a toolkit developed from the Rock the GRADES grant.

“We predict seeing similar gains across the state,” says Jessica Strolin-Goltzman, assistant professor of social work, who served as co-principal investigator on the grant with Jesse Suter, research assistant professor in the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion. “Hopefully we will be able to spread the success in Vermont to national partners.”

Key aspects of the grant will be implemented by child welfare resource coordinators and their local multi-disciplinary support networks, enabling them to generate a diverse network of professionals in child welfare, education, court systems and partnering agencies; recruit foster families in school districts with high rates of foster care placements; ask foster parents for transportation support to increase attendance; collect and disseminate data across disciplines to identify needs and track progress; educate local communities on the importance of educational stability; and support screening youth in foster care for educational stability and wellbeing.

“Ultimately, this collaboration will benefit the children in foster care across Vermont by improving their ability to remain in a continuous educational setting where relationships with peers and caring adults can remain stable even if their home environment does not,” said Suter, whose research focuses wraparound services, a team-based planning process for meeting the needs of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in their homes, schools and communities.

VT-FUTRES will offer discrete trainings and outreach during the duration of the two-year grant, which utilizes social media and smartphone applications to spread successful practices, to lay the foundation for sustainable workforce development infrastructure. These plans include the implementation of the revised Rock the GRADES toolkit statewide; and the creation of a VT-FUTRES interactive website providing educational stability information, data, and strategies for child welfare, educators, members of the legal community, youth, foster parents and other community members.

Action items of the grant also include showing the Casey Family Programs’ “Endless Dreams” video and curriculum at two statewide education conferences and establishing local trainers in the Endless Dreams curriculum; disseminating regular updates on educational stability and outcomes data to multi-disciplinary audiences; and assisting Vermont’s Court Improvement Program initiative disseminating judicial bench cards encouraging judges to ask about educational stability and outcomes for youth in foster care.

“This grant is extremely exciting to us because it is congruent with our career paths and also with the mission of CESS to ‘provide leadership in addressing the educational and human service needs of Vermont,’ said Strolin-Goltzman, who conducts research on trans-disciplinary evaluation and treatment interventions in child welfare, substance abuse and school-based services.