By Nicole Bienusa, Dallas CASA Program Director

Educational advocacy is a crucial component of being an effective advocate for a child living in protective care. But what are educational needs and how can a Dallas CASA volunteer advocate for the educational needs of a child? Where do you start?

You might be surprised at all the ways your advocacy can make a difference for children and their education. Here are some things advocates can do to be educational advocates:

  • Start with the basics. Reach out to the child’s teacher, request the child’s report card and grades, and then stay in contact. Teachers see these kids so often, and they often see both challenges and positive developments before the rest of us might.
  • Ask to see where the child does homework. Does he or she have the supplies and technology needed to be successful?
  • Attend any Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meetings. You can start by attending the meeting, but you can do much more by really understanding the process. The ARD meeting is where teachers and other support staff come together to write an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child that will help them reach their full potential at school. An IEP can include a broad array of services such as life skills support, physical accommodations, extra learning support and much more. There is a parent guide to the ARD process on the TEA’s website.
  • Know the major milestones for development at different ages and know to ask the caregiver or a child’s teacher if these are being met. The CDC’s Developmental Milestones can be helpful for physical and emotional milestones. For age-appropriate speech and language milestones, visit here.
  • Know the laws. Thanks to a provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act, a child in protective care who moves homes and therefore schools close to graduation can have transportation back to their prior district, allowing them to graduate on time. Volunteers can ask their supervisors about other possible support services, especially as teens approach graduation or make plans to age out.
  • Be ready to think outside the box. If the youth you’re advocating for is about to turn 18 and doesn’t have the credits to be close to graduation, think about a GED. We recently served a young woman about to turn 18. Due to several moves and lack of credit(s), she was still in 10th grade but desperate to be out of school. Advocating for a GED was the right thing for her.
  • Arrange for or take your teen on a college visit. Whether they’re placed in a Residential Treatment Center (RTC) or foster home, others are probably too busy to take them. But if a youth is really interested in college, they need to see what it’s like and think about what they want to do. The best way to do that is to visit in person.
  • Be ready with other post-high school options. College isn’t for everyone, and we’ve got lots of kids interested in two-year degrees, certifications, the military or other options. Help the child you’re serving research these.
  • Advocate for the extra. For lots of kids, and not just foster kids, sports, marching band or another after-school activity is what keeps them going. It motivates them to keep grades up and stay engaged. Sometimes educational advocacy means making sure the child you’re serving has transportation to early morning band practices.
  • Remember to advocate educationally for children as they move placements. We helped a young person recently slated to be discharged from an out-of-state RTC three weeks before school was out. We advocated for three additional weeks in the RTC to allow her to complete that school year and not risk failing tests in Texas based on a different curriculum.
  • Ask the teacher or school counselor about the child’s social and emotional development. Does the child have friends? Someone to sit with at lunch? Advocate for counseling or appropriate therapies when needed.

For most children and youth in protective care, educational advocacy is one of the most important things their Dallas CASA volunteer can work on. We want all children to meet their full potential, and one way to do that is through educational attainment. If you’re a volunteer and have questions about educational advocacy, ask your supervisor for guidance and resources.