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Efforts underway to improve graduation rates for foster youth

Posted: 6:35 PM, Aug 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-22 18:36:29-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Kids that are in the foster care system in Marion County require extra help when it comes to their education. That's because child advocates say those students often face a unique set of challenges based on their experiences.

Right now, the graduation rate for foster youth in Indiana is at 64 percent, that is compared to 88 percent for all other students in the state.

There is a local effort underway to improve that number.

Polly Cunningham and her fiance Robert Davis have been foster parents for 20 years.

"I always told my mom growing up I would have a truckload of boys," Cunningham said.

The couple has one biological son and has adopted five others. Over the years they've fostered more than 100 kids. Many of them have personal struggles, including behavioral issues, from being in foster care.

"They feel they need attention… Because they come from a background where they didn't get good attention," Davis said. "They get disruptive in the class and cause other students not to get what they want. Consequently, a lot of times they get put out."

That is where the Educational Liaison Program at Child Advocates steps in to help.

They currently serve 800 children who require support from Marion County court cases.

"Most of our students we serve come with some trauma in their background," Donna Walker, Director of Educational Liaison Program at Child Advocates, said. "Life challenges actually impact their educational performance."

The liaisons work side by side with the child's caregiver and school staff building an educational plan and helping them understand the child emotionally and academically.

"We've seen students make it to graduation, go off to college and be successful because they now have a community of stakeholders here in the school to support them," Adenike Harmon, Pike High School assistant principal, said.

For foster parents like Davis and Cunningham, it's the support that they've seen work first hand.

"It helps to keep them in the school. Otherwise, they won't have a chance," Davis said. "They would probably end up dropping out of school and be like a lot of these folks on the street in crime."

They hope other foster parents will now be aware that there is help, like the Educational Liaison Program, that will assist their children in building a successful future.

A program is starting up to continue improving graduation rates. A $500,000 grant from The Arnold Foundation is allowing the IU School of Education to collaborate with child advocates.

They will research how to improve them in the future.

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