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Newsroom SRS receives grant to boost foster kids graduation rates

A new federal grant will help the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services improve the policies and practices for educating children who are in the Kansas foster care network.

The $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will fund a 17-month collaborative initiative between SRS, the University of Kansas, and the Kansas State Department of Education. The purpose of this initiative is to develop a stable educational environment for youth in foster care. Its approach is to improve the sharing of information among the agencies involved in their lives, specifically SRS and the schools they attend. The goals are to reduce the number of times foster children have to change schools, and improve their graduation rates. 

“The kids in foster care face enough challenges without the added burden of trying to navigate a complex educational system where their records are hard to access,” said SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki. “We are going to do everything we can to make communication among agencies more efficient to ultimately benefit children who are in state care.”

The University of Kansas’ Institute for Educational Research and Public Service (IERPS) and School of Social Welfare (KUSSW) will help SRS’ Children and Family Services Division and KSDE develop the infrastructure necessary to increase interagency communication. 

Improved communication and information sharing will help create a more stable environment for youth in foster care ages 10 to 17 who often go through two or more school transfers in a year. Once the new systems are in place, there will be fewer school transfers and graduation rates are expected to improve significantly. This will contribute greatly to the overall wellbeing and stability of foster children. 

Currently, the Topeka USD 501 school district, Northeast SRS Region and TFI Family Services, in partnership with KU, are developing a cross-system pilot program that will model how teachers and case workers will use data to examine the causes of education instability that foster children often experience. 

During the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers passed House Substitute for Senate Bill 23, which allows foster children to graduate from high school if they meet specific graduation requirements adopted by the State Board of Education. Often times, foster children in high school have trouble graduating on time because graduation requirements are different at each high school they have attended. 

Foster children who leave state care at 18 are eligible for free tuition at state universities, community colleges and technical schools.