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Transforming Education Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster Care Using a Statewide Collaborative Model

Judge Patricia MaciasJudge Patricia A. Macias, 388th Family District Court, El Paso, TX

Summary: Judge Macias describes the work of the Texas Supreme Court Commission on Children, Youth and Families, which developed the Texas Blueprint: Transforming Education Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster Care, and explains the goal of the task force that will prioritize and monitor implementation of the committee’s recommendations.



In 2010, the Supreme Court of Texas issued an order establishing the Education Committee of the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families (Children’s Commission).[1] This simple, yet profound, act by the highest judicial leadership created a statewide, multi-system collaborative that worked together, in sync, for 18 months. The result was The Texas Blueprint: Transforming Education Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster Care. This report outlines recommendations including best practices in the courtroom; education and child welfare policy and practice modifications; and specific actions that must be taken by all stakeholders to improve education outcomes for children and youth in foster care.[2]

Specifically, the recommendations encompass the following areas deemed critical in improving education outcomes for children and youth in foster care: 

  • Judicial practices
  • Data and information sharing
  • Multi-disciplinary training
  • School readiness
  • School stability and transitions
  • School experience, supports and advocacy
  • Post-secondary education
  • Future collaboration

At its inaugural meeting in September 2010, the committee established its guiding principles, modeled after the Blueprint for Change – Education Success for Children in Foster Care (2008), a guide produced by Casey Family Programs and the American Bar Association’s Legal Center for Foster Care and Education.[3] The Education Committee, chaired by Judges Patricia Macías (El Paso) and Cheryl Shannon (Dallas), included the commissioners of Texas education and child welfare agencies; the executive directors of Texas CASA, Association of School Boards, and Association of School Administrators; a representative from Casey Family Programs; attorneys who represent parents and children; and a young adult formerly in care.

Guiding Principles

While recognizing each system’s strengths, limitations, and challenges faced while improving outcomes, committee members agreed on eight principles that clearly reflect what Texas children and youth in foster care need if they are to be successful educationally.

  • Guiding Principle # 1: Children and youth in care are entitled to remain in the same school when feasible.
  • Guiding Principle # 2: Children and youth in care experience seamless transitions between schools.
  • Guiding Principle # 3: Young children in care receive services and interventions to be ready to learn.
  • Guiding Principle # 4: Children and youth in care have the opportunity and support to fully participate in all developmentally appropriate activities and all aspects of the education experience.
  • Guiding Principle # 5: Children and youth in care have supports to prevent school dropout, truancy and disciplinary actions, and to reengage in the education experience.
  • Guiding Principle # 6: Children and youth in care are involved, empowered and prepared to self-advocate in all aspects of their education.
  • Guiding Principle # 7: Children and youth in care have consistent adult support to advocate for and make education decisions.
  • Guiding Principle # 8: Children and youth in care have support to enter and complete post-secondary education.

With the guiding principles in mind, the Education Committee also established ground rules for discussion, which were critical to the success of this endeavor:

  • The children and youth in the Texas foster care system are our responsibility, and blame and finger-pointing would not be permitted.
  • Courts, education and child welfare must all be represented in the discussion if a coordinated approach is to be established.
  • Lack of current funding options would not deter creative ideas.
  • All members must develop an understanding of the challenges other partners face, such as funding limitations.
  • Communication is key to developing and sustaining collaboration.

Meaningful Statewide Collaboration

The Education Committee met the challenge of meaningful collaboration in a state as diverse and large as Texas by:

  • Recognizing that input from professionals in the field was critical in shaping the recommendations
  • Appointing over 100 individuals from the collaborative representation as sub-committee members
  • Using current technologies including, webinars, phone conferences and emails to assist subcommittees in exchanging information and outlining recommendations and their parameters

After extensive discussion and careful deliberation, the Education Committee reached consensus on recommendations and the Texas Blueprint was launched in May 2012.

Looking Ahead

The Texas Supreme Court directive to develop a collaborative model aimed at the improvement of educational outcomes was accomplished. This model moves the collaboration forward to implementation through a task force charged with prioritizing and monitoring performance of the Blueprint recommendations. The Texas Blueprint demonstrates that courts, child welfare and education systems, working together, can produce great momentum and better education outcomes for Texas children and youth in foster care.



Author biography:

Judge Patricia A. Macias, Presiding Judge of the 388th Family District Court in El Paso, TX, has served on the bench since 1995. Judge Macias is involved in state and national efforts to improve the lives of children in foster care. She most recently served as chair of the Texas Supreme Court Commission on Children, Youth, and Families Education Committee. The result of this initiative was publication of the Texas Blueprint: Transforming Education Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster Care. In 2008–2009, she served as president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and continues involvement through committee work and judicial education. Among her most recent recognitions are Judicial Leadership Award, Supreme Court of Texas Children’s Commission, 2012 and Jurist of the Year, the El Paso Bar Association, 2010.



Endnotes:

[1] Supreme Court of Texas Misc. Docket No. 10-9079, issued May 20, 2010, Order Establishing Education Committee of Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families. The Order was the result of a Texas Action Plan drafted by a team of child welfare experts during the third National Judicial Leadership Summit on the Protection of Children in 2009.

[2] The full set of recommendations, including commentary, may be found in the report, located at: http://texaschildrenscommission.gov/PDF/TheTexasBlueprint.pdf

[3] ABA Center on Children and the Law, Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, Blueprint for Change: Education Success for Children in Foster Care

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