1998 Winner; 1997 Semifinalist
Ramapo Union Free School District, NY
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards
New York

Youth in institutional foster care bring with them a history of unstable home experiences, erratic school attendance, and a host of emotional problems. In order to become responsible and productive adults, these youth need to establish consistency in all realms of their lives academic and personal. Yet, in the vast majority of institutional foster care facilities, children's residential care and educational needs are administered by wholly separate service agencies. The result is costly and ineffective services that generally leave students failing academically and lacking the social ability to succeed. In 1987, New York's Edwin Gould Academy operated as a child care agency with a separate public school district. Staff and student injuries were high, graffiti marred the walls, pregnancies were endemic, and academic achievement was extremely low. As a result, the Edwin Gould Foundation was discussing the school's possible termination.

In 1990, Edwin Gould Academy unified under one central management to effectively support institutionalized youth in a consistent environment that emphasizes both academic and personal development. The goal of this change has been to provide a 24-hour supportive and educational environment for youth in which both education and Positive Peer Culture are reinforced. This integrated approach to foster care and education provides students with essential consistency they have a common language with which to set goals, establish action plans, and begin working toward achieving their aspirations. The Academy's approach resulted in a cohesive, cost-effective program that addresses the holistic needs of foster care youth with complete coordination of all service providers, including teachers, psychologists, social workers, child care workers, health care providers, and school and residential administrators.

This structure is accomplished through a fully integrated management team with one person in the dual role of public school district superintendent and residential facility executive director. Under this leadership, all staff with responsibilities for the child's welfare are now jointly trained and supervised, making it possible for all Academy staff to fully and consistently attend to the holistic needs of each child. Furthermore, by structuring Academy staff in teams around groups (or 'houses') of students, all decisions affecting the students are now made through a collaborative decision-making structure that includes all Academy staff from maintenance personnel and secretaries through the Superintendent/Executive Director. Students' needs are now accounted for from all perspectives in decisions affecting them. For example, at the Academy, teachers, child care staff and residential administrators all accompany the social worker on home visits, establishing an understanding of the child's home environment and the affect it has on learning.

The unified system has also led to significant cost savings. For each child in the institutional foster care system, the public sector allots just over $81,000 to provide 24-hour care, home visits, psychologists, education, food, shelter, clothing, counseling for the student and his/her family members, and follow-up care after a student leaves an agency.

The Academy's unified structure allows for a reallocation of funds that would normally be used on duplicative overhead needs such as health care, maintenance, purchasing, record keeping, and vehicle fleets, to provide more direct student programming above and beyond the basic care and educational programming normally provided. Therefore, more funding is directed into student services such as preparation for post-secondary schooling, school-to-work programs, and extended continuing care services that are essential to students' future as responsible citizens but are not usually provided for in the $81,000 per student allocation.

The Academy also focuses on replication efforts by creating materials and workshops for conferences on topics in foster care. As a result, at least two residential foster care agencies in New York State have implemented full adoption of their model.

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