Children's Voice Jan/Feb 2008

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Clearing a Path to Higher Ed for Dependent Youth

The Miami-Dade County Public School System is the fourth largest in the nation, with more than 300,000 students, including 5,000 youth in foster care. To make sure foster youths' dreams for the future don't get lost in the crowd, the nonprofit organization Educate Tomorrow is training school employees to identify dependent and delinquent students and matching those youth with community and in-school mentors to help them pursue higher education.

Virginia Emmons, a former famine relief worker in Niger for the Peace Corps, cofounded the Miami organization with her four sisters, including Melanie Emmons Damian, an attorney and child advocate. They realized many foster youth were unfamiliar with the educational resources legally available to them, such as tuition waivers and stipends for youth aging out of care. Even if the youth were told about these opportunities, they still needed someone to motivate, encourage, and help them research and apply for college and obtain financial aid. Mentors proved to be the critical link.

"It's really been our mission to do whatever we can to help youth achieve higher education," Emmons says.

Educate Tomorrow follows a holistic community approach to the program, drawing on the commitment and resources of the school system, child welfare agencies and providers, Department of Juvenile Justice, and community volunteers. It points to a Florida statute passed in 2004 that requires the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Florida Department of Education to enter into interagency agreements to best meet children's educational needs.

Using this statute as its guide, Educate Tomorrow worked with Miami-Dade Public Schools to develop the Juvenile Court Contact Assistance Project. During the 2006-2007 academic year, Educate Tomorrow trained about 500 school employees designated as "juvenile court contacts" on why foster youth need extra support and introduced them to using the school system's database to identify youth in foster care.

This school year, school staff are being trained on how to conduct in-school education support groups and what to talk about with dependent and delinquent youth to get them thinking about and preparing for higher education. Educate Tomorrow is also focusing more on recruiting in-school mentors from among the school system's 49,000 employees, including teachers, counselors, and other staff who can more closely follow the youth during their school careers. The goal is for community mentors to continue to work with the youth after they graduate.

Javier Brezdivin, a counselor at Miami Killian High, said the training "sensitized me to the enormous needs these children have and helped me realize that without us providing that additional attention, it's hard for them to succeed. These kids generally are invisible, and it makes a huge difference when I know which kids are in foster care."

Educate Tomorrow received full funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service to design and implement the core mentor program, and from the Children's Trust to implement the Juvenile Court Contact Assistance Project. Learn more about Educate Tomorrow and how to replicate it in your community by visiting

Treating Recovering Addicts as Patients and Parents

For women substance abusers, becoming a patient in a treatment program is a good first step toward recovery. But if those helping her forget she is also a parent, her recovery may be compromised. The Enhanced Services for Children of Women in Substance Abuse Treatment Project in Philadelphia is working to provide that parental support and attention to children's needs to promote recovery and reduce child welfare involvement.

Started in 2001, the initiative is jointly coordinated and overseen by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Community-Based Prevention Services and the city's Coordinating Office of Drug and Alcohol Prevention Programs. Fifteen residential or intensive women's treatment programs are participating.

Using funding through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the collaborating departments hired family service coordinators for each treatment center to work one-on-one with recovering mothers and their children. The coordinators attend to the health, educational, and social service needs of the children, and help mothers achieve and maintain their recovery goals. They also ensure the various systems involved with the family, including school, housing, and health systems, are coordinated in ways that prevent relapse and support permanency.

"It's about reconnecting the family to resources," says Michelle Heyward, Program Manager for the project.

The project also organized Aftercare Coordination Teams to provide aftercare services to the women and children recently discharged from the program. The teams help the women develop and implement relapse prevention plans and manage family issues. Additionally, the teams ensure children's health, mental health, and academic needs are being met after mothers have been discharged.

For more information about the Enhanced Services for Children of Women in Substance Abuse Treatment Project, contact Heyward at 215/341-6094, or

The Enhanced Services Project is just one program within DHS's seven-year-old Division of Community-Based Prevention Services (CBPS) office, which coordinates initiatives such as afterschool programs, parent education classes, training of "family leaders" and curfew centers.

According to CBPS Program Director Ellen Walker, due to CBPS's efforts in fiscal year 2007, 4,500 parents received parent education in their communities; truant youth improved in school attendance by 40%, compared with no improvement for youth receiving other services; and first-time offending youth showed a 12% rate of reoffending, compared with a 30% recidivism rate of youth not receiving services.

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